The use of symbols in nathaniel hawthornes the scarlet letter

This is the second of the three essays and discusses symbolism in the novel. Throughout the novel, The Scarlet Letter, the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses a few key symbols to represent major themes in the book. The most obvious and well known, as it is in the title, is the scarlet letter Hester is forced to wear. Three other symbols are the scaffold, the sun, and the forest.

The use of symbols in nathaniel hawthornes the scarlet letter

The reader is thus invited to consider the whole story as a progressive uncovering of the "truth" of a symbol that constitutes one of the most enigmatic elements of American literature.

Critics over the years focused on this search for a hidden significance, and put forward their own interpretation of this "truth. Instead of offering my own A-word as a key to understanding Nathaniel Hawthorne's masterpiece, I would like to focus on the notion of symbol itself, and on the way the author organizes this search for a meaning.

The narrator frequently uses this word throughout the romance, and its various occurrences enable us to shape a definition that corresponds to his personal use of symbols. From this starting point, I would like to show how Hawthorne stages the interpretative process within The Scarlet Letter, and how this provides keys for the reader on how to read them.

The word "symbol" and its meaning in The Scarlet Letter First, I would like to provide a few basic elements on the definitions of allegory and symbol as I will use them in this analysis. Starting from that definition, Poe's analysis of Hawthorne's works as "allegorical" can be qualified, especially in The Scarlet Letter in which Hawthorne blatantly refuses some key aspects of an allegorical mode of representation.

I will try to demonstrate that the scarlet "symbol," as well as its full-fledged equivalent Pearl, pertains on the contrary to a symbolic mode of representation. Both partake of the creation of a spiritual meaning, and enable the author to provide several layers of interpretation.

The distinction between the two figures appeared later and was shaped mainly by German romantics.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The distinction between symbol and allegory can be organized around three main points. The two elements remain distinct and the object's sole function is to suggest the secondary meaning. Justice as a blindfold woman carrying scales and a sword can be used as an example to clarify matters.

The woman does not exist at the first level of understanding; she does not have a name or a personal history.

The use of symbols in nathaniel hawthornes the scarlet letter

Using such an image only aims at indirectly referring to the abstract idea of justice which exists outside of such a representation. On the other hand, the symbol has a syncretic value: The interpretation of allegory is finite, whereas that of symbol is infinite.

The blindfold woman represents the concept of justice, and that figure could be replaced by the concept without losing any meaningful element.

The use of symbols in nathaniel hawthornes the scarlet letter

On the contrary, if a symbol is assigned one definite meaning, some of its reality as a literary object is ignored. Understanding allegories requires cultural knowledge, whereas the comprehension of symbol is intuitive.

One must learn what the blindfold woman stands for, or to guess one must reflect upon her various attributes and relate them to the cultural idea of justice. The figure does not appeal to sensitivity, and emotions are not part of the understanding process.

Hawthorne's definition should be set within the theoretical debate opposing allegory and symbol that first appeared in Goethe's works. Hawthorne's knowledge of German, although limited according to his wife, enables us to assume that he was at least acquainted with these theories. Moreover, the question of understanding symbols is largely common among intellectuals at the time, since Champollion's discovery of the meaning of hieroglyphs had a great impact on various authors of the American Renaissance.

According to John Irwin, Champollion isolated a series of signs that could not be deciphered and that are tantamount to the symbolic signs per se; these "anaglyphs" correspond to the lost wisdom of the Egyptians.

Starting from that definition, I would first like to show that the scarlet letter is endowed with many characteristics pertaining to a symbolic mode. This contribution aims to describe how, in The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne ventured far into the realm of romantic symbol, discovered the ambiguities and uncertainties related to such a mode of expression, and attempted at providing a number of answers to the problems he encountered.

However, it is far from certain that he considered these answers as satisfactory. I would like to submit the hypothesis that this is the reason why Hawthorne abandoned such a mode and returned to a more classic allegorical mode, at least up to the unfinished undertaking known as The Elixir of Life Manuscripts.

Hawthorne's definition of "symbol" When commenting upon his first volume of Tales, Edgar Allan Poe indicates that Hawthorne "is infinitely too fond of allegory, and can never hope for popularity as long as he persists in it.

Jorge Luis Borges, in an article devoted to Nathaniel Hawthorne's stylistic technique, refers to the habit Hawthorne had of writing down in his Notebooks central ideas that would later constitute the backbone of his tales, thus starting from the "moral" of the tale to elaborate a narrative that will illustrate this moral.

The example of "Egotism or the Bosom Serpent" is probably the most appropriate. An entry dated from in the Notebooks hints at a possible idea for a tale in such terms: But Hawthorne's use of "allegory" already bears traces of the romantic symbol, and especially puts forward the idea that the snake has a real existence.

He repeatedly insists upon the materiality of the serpent, especially in the final scene when Roderick is finally delivered: At that moment, if report be trustworthy, the sculptor beheld a waving motion through the grass, and heard a tinkling sound, as if something had plunged into the fountain.

This fusion of the spiritual meaning - Roderick acted unselfishly and is delivered from his egotism - and the material aspect - the serpent left his bosom - thus presides over the conclusion of the tale, bringing a tinge of romantic flavor to his allegorical dish.

But it is interesting to remark that Poe used the term "allegory," whereas Hawthorne preferred that of "symbol" in The Scarlet Letter.

This underlines a major inflection in Hawthorne's use of this type of stylistic figure, from the "Allegories of the heart" to The Scarlet Letter.

No less than twenty-four occurrences of the noun or the verb can be numbered, delineating a definition of symbol that undoubtedly leans towards that of the German romantics. According to Goethe's definition, the classical allegory aims at providing the reader with a direct knowledge of what is meant, and establishes a conventional - and therefore immutable - relationship between an image and an abstract meaning.

We can find in The Scarlet Letter a blatant refusal of such a mode when he presents Hester during the first scaffold scene with this sentence:aaa Isa Blagden, portrait owned by Lilian Whiting, reproduced in Jeanette Marks.

Lily, Lindy M. Zart Underwater Homes, Therese Hopkins Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East (), William Ewart Gladstone By Stroke of Sword - A Romance Taken from the Chronicles of Sir Jeremy Clephane (), Jeremy Clephane, Judas Fraser, Andrew Balfour. Use of Symbols and Symbolism in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter - Use of Symbols in The Scarlet Letter In many stories, symbols included by the author add deeper meaning.

Nathaniel Hawthorne is one author who mastered the skill of using symbols effectively. Symbols and Symbolism Essay - Use of Symbols in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter - Use of Symbols in The Scarlet Letter In World Book Dictionary, a symbol is defined as something that stands for or represents something else, especially an idea, quality, or condition.

Symbols Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. The Scarlet Letter.

The scarlet letter is meant to be a symbol of shame, but instead it becomes a powerful symbol of identity to Hester. The letter’s meaning shifts as time passes. aaa Isa Blagden, portrait owned by Lilian Whiting, reproduced in Jeanette Marks.

The Scarlet Letter - Wikipedia