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Clothing In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

1229 words - 5 pages

Clothing: A Form of Rebellion
“Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used by the author to represent abstract ideas or concepts.” Symbolism in literature is the depth and hidden meaning in any piece of work. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a powerful and evocative novel laced with symbolism. The most obvious is the symbol of the scarlet letter itself, representing Hester’s sin of adultery. Hawthorne’s other symbols are less obvious and are very often obscured in the novel.
Clothing is an important but often forgotten symbol in The Scarlet Letter. Clothing is defined as “garments collectively, clothes, raiment, apparel… a covering” (dictionary.com). The second ...view middle of the document...

It is illustrated “in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread.” The luxuriance and splendor of the embroidery of her garment went “greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony” (Scarlet 47). This meant that the ostentation of the dress was not the typical style of dress in the colony. The colors were not drab, but rather bright and elegant.
While this is the general meaning of the word clothing in the novel, it has a deeper meaning. In chapter 7, Hester goes the Governor Bellingham to give him a pair of gloves she embroidered for him. Pearl accompanies her and the dress she wears bears almost identical resemblance to Hester’s brand. The dress is a “crimson velvet tunic, of a peculiar cut, abundantly embroidered with fantasies and flourishes of gold thread.” The illustration of the dress by Hawthorne is almost indistinguishable from that of the embroidery of Hester’s letter in chapter 2. Hawthorne comments that Pearl is the scarlet letter in its living form. The dress is atypical from common style of dress because of its “strength of coloring” and it’s “peculiar cut.” Hawthorne comments that perhaps the shame of having to wear the “emblem of her guilt and torture” was so deep in Hester’s heart that she made the dress similar to the letter unconsciously. She would have done this to create a parallelism between Pearl, the object of her affection and the wretched scarlet letter. Pearl’s clothes contribute to her symbolic purpose in the novel by making a connection between her, the scarlet letter, and Hester’s passion. The consideration Hester gives to designing Pearl's garments is considerable. Hester spends hours clothing Pearl in the most magnificent, extravagant garments she can find, even though Hawthorne comments that Pearl would appear just as beautiful in any garment. Pearl should be viewed as a living extension of the scarlet letter. Consequently, Hester permits herself the extravagance of attiring Pearl in handsome outfits similar to the way she ornamented the letter upon her breast. Pearl, even more than the letter, exemplifies the ignominy of Hester's treachery. The dark, drab clothes Hester dons is an outward reflection of her life, which is full of misery, shame, unhappiness and regret. Hester dresses plainly and dully, except for the vastly ornate scarlet letter A that she has embroidered on the bosom of her garments. Hester wears it not only as the insignia of infamy it was intended to be, but also as a badge of distinction. Hester adorns Pearl in fanciful, vivid clothing, enveloping her in external signs of her...

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