Webster defined “symbol” with these words: “Something concrete that represents or suggests another thing that cannot in itself be pictured. ” This concept has been particularly applied to literature and used by writers throughout history. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter uses multitudes of symbols in such a manner. One of the most prominent, and most complicated, of such symbols is the scarlet letter “A”. The scarlet letter “A” is a symbol of a daughter’s connection to her mother, isolation, and the devil and its associations.
The scarlet letter represents Pearl’s emotional attachment to Hester. For instance, Pearl is as deeply affectionate to the letter as she is to her mother. In chapter ten, Pearl takes “a handful of [burrs], [and she arranged] them along the lines of the scarlet letter. ” In this instance, Pearl is showing her fondness for her mother by decorating her letter â€“ as if the letter itself were a medium between the two. Additionally, Pearl views the letter and her mother as equals. During chapter fourteen, Hester decides to remove her letter while in the forest.
Thus, Pearl is reluctant to approach her. Hester, realizing what is wrong, says, “Pearl misses that which she has always seen me wear. ” After she returns the letter her bosom, “Pearl kissed [Hester’s] brow and both cheeks â€¦ but â€¦ Pearl put up her mouth, and kissed the scarlet letter too. ” Because of the fact that Pearl equates the letter to her mother, the letter is as deep a symbol of motherly connection as Hester is herself. In addition to emotional attachment, the scarlet letter represents isolation. Whoever wears the letter will be feared by society.
In chapter five, “children â€¦ would creep nigh enough to behold [Hester] â€¦ and discerning the scarlet letter on her breast, would scamper off with a strange, contagious fear. ” In this passage, the narrator describes the letter as if it triggers fear in those who see it, and thus these individuals avoid the letter’s bearer. Also, the letter directly creates isolation of its bearer. The narrator speaks of the letter saying that it has “the effect of a spell, taking [Hester] out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself. Here, Hester first appears with the letter upon her, and the letter is describes as creating an encompassing zone of isolation around her.
Fear is a stimulus of isolation, and the scarlet letter radiates both fear and isolation â€“ therefore making it a powerful symbol of isolation. Although the scarlet letter has several figurative meanings, it also has literal ones as well, such as the devil and its associations. In chapter sixteen, Pearl inquires Hester as to whether or not she has ever met the “Black Man,” or forest-dwelling devil. She responds, “‘Once in my life I met the Black Man! â€¦ ‘This scarlet letter is his mark. ‘”
Here, Hester is comparing the letter to the devil’s symbol of previous presence. Moreover, the scarlet letter is an icon of Hell. When Roger Chillingworth and Hester are conversing in chapter three, Chillingworth admits that the adultery was “his folly”, but he also makes a subtle remark about the letter itself, saying, “‘I might have beheld the bale-fire of that scarlet letter blazing at the end of our path. ‘” Because he refers to the letter as having evil fire, he is making an innuendo that the letter is from Hell.
In these instances, direct or indirect references to the devil and Hell make it clear that the letter is indeed infernal. The scarlet letter “A”, the most intricate symbol in the novel, is extremely diverse as its meanings strongly contrast. Often times, these meanings of the symbol are directly stated, but they are frequently indirect as well. The symbol’s meaning can also be expressed through a variety of methods such as character dialogue, narrative, or allusions through imagery. Despite the differences between maternal love, estrangement, and avernal entities, the letter is still able to encompass these concepts into its symbolism.