Books and Movies Reviews

The Scarlett Letter (essay on symbolism)

The Scarlet Letter is considered to be thefirst psychological novel, dealing with the interworkings of the characters' minds rather than with their actions. In this novel, acclaimed as Hawthorne's masterpiece, the author liberally, generously sprinkles the pages with symbolic imagery. One such symbol, perhaps the most obvious one, is the scarlet "A" embroidered upon Hester Prynne's bosom. Henry James, another celebrated American author, criticizes Hawthorne's overuse of symbolism, and it is in fact, a just criticism. While Hawthorne was a great writer, it must be said that he underestimated his readers greatly by repeatedly developing the symbolic "A" to the point of triteness.
The readerfirst encounters this sinister letter in the second chapter, titled after the setting, "The Market-Place." Hawthorne introduces Hester Prynne, the book's heroine:
The young woman was tall, with a figure of
perfect elegance… but the point which drew
all eyes… was that SCARLETT LETTER, so
fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon
This is reasonable, to introduce the letter and the protagonist to the reader early on in the book before interest is lost.This "A" sets Hester apart from the rest of the womenfolk of the town, not only condemning her in their eyes, but elevating her to a position beyond them. Hawthorne goes on to describe this:
"It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of
ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing
her in a sphere by herself."
The bold letter, haloed with golden thread, illustrates not so much Hester Prynne's strength of spirit to be able to embellish the sign of her damnation, but also to clearly inform the reader that this letter cannot be hidden away, forgotten. Indeed, it is not forgotten, and cannot be forgotten, for Hawthorne will continuously place the letter in the most unlike…


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