The Symbolic Use Of Nature In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

1425 words - 6 pages

The Symbolic Use of Nature in The Scarlet Letter

    In Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic The Scarlet Letter, nature plays a very important and symbolic role.  Hawthorne uses nature to convey the mood of a scene, to describe characters, and to link the natural elements with human nature.  Many of the passages that have to do with nature accomplish more than one of these ideas.  All throughout the book, nature is incorporated into the story line. The deep symbolism conveyed by certain aspects of nature helps the reader gain a deeper understanding of the plight and inner emotions of the characters in the novel.


            Hawthorne's moods or prevailing feelings during certain ...view middle of the document...


The day was chill and somber.  Overhead was a gray expanse of cloud, slightly stirred, however, by a breeze; so that a gleam of flickering sunshine might now and then be seen a its solitary play along the path (159). 


Hawthorne describes a cold and gray day.  This description gives the reader a sense of isolation as well as slight depression.  However, the mention of a slight breeze that ruffles the canopy of the forest just enough to let in little flickers of sunshine conveys a fleeting ray of hope that seems to coexist with the gloominess in the scene.  In many scenes during the book, moods or prevailing feelings are established through descriptions of the natural surroundings of the characters.  This aspect of Hawthorne's writing makes the book deeper and more emotional.


            Nature is often used symbolically in The Scarlet Letter to describe people physically, emotionally, and socially.  Hawthorne uses this technique very effectively.  He gives the reader a good feel for the true psyche of some of the characters during different parts of the story.  An excellent example of how characters are revealed through nature is the description of the lone rose-bush.  It symbolizes Hester and the strength she possesses as an individual. 


But, on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him. (45)



This description is a direct representation, in terms of nature, of the situation that Hester is in at the beginning of the novel.  The rosebush represents passion through its red color.  Hester, a beautiful and gentle woman, is thrown into prison with the dregs of society for a crime of passion.  The lone rosebush grows outside the prison amidst weeds and shrubs.  The unique bond between the two is that they offer hope to others because of their beauty and strength in the most dismal of settings. 


The character of Pearl is also reflected in nature.  During the scene when Hester and Dimesdale are talking in the forest, Pearl is compared to a little brook:


Pearl resembled the brook, inasmuch as the current of her life gushed from a well-spring as mysterious, and had flowed through scenes shadowed as heavily with gloom.  But, unlike the little stream, she danced and sparkled, and prattled airily along her course (163).



Pearl's past is symbolized by the brook..  Because she is an illegitimate child in the eyes of society, her origin, just like the brook's, is a mystery.  The brook winds through a gloomy forest.  Her past is also filled with gloom due to society's stereotype of children born out of wedlock.  Pearl, however, unlike the brook, does...

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