Nathaniel Hawthorne appears to be one of the most outstanding symbolist in American literature and the study of his symbols is urgently required to properly understand his novels. In simple terms, a symbol can be defined as something utilized to stand for something else. As for literature, here a symbol is normally a concrete object employed to represent an idea broader and more abstract in its meaning and scope. Symbols greatly vary, ranging from the most apparent substitution of one thing for another to complex and massive creations.
In literature, an allegory is a story, where objects, characters and events feature a hidden meaning and are employed to present a sort of universal lesson. Obviously, Hawthorne boasts a great atmosphere for the symbols in the Scarlet Letter. It’s because the Puritans were used to seeing the entire world exactly through allegory. Such simple patterns as the meteor making its way through the sky, became moral or religious interpretations for various human events. Such objects as the scaffold, served as ritualistic symbols for penitence and sin.
Whereas the Puritans translated these rituals into repressive and moral exercises, Hawthorne simply turns their own interpretations around in the novel The Scarlet Letter. The Puritan community considers Hester to be a fallen woman, while Dimmensdale boasts a reputation of a saint and a betrayed husband Chillingworth as a victim. Instead, Hawthorne pictures Hester as a woman, representing a sensitive human being with emotions and a heart. Dimmesdale was presented as a minister, not saint-like, but morally weak, unable to confess his secret sin. As for Chillingworth, here he’s just a husband and simultaneously the worst offender of mankind, pursuing his evil objective.
The Puritan mentality denies Hawthorne’s embodiment of these characters. At the end of the novel, even hearing and watching Dimmesdale’s sincere confession, most members of the Puritan community still deny what they’ve just seen. Thus, utilizing his characters as symbols, Hawthorne discloses the grim underside of Puritanism, lurking beneath the public piety.
Some of Hawthorne’s symbols are capable of changing their meaning, depending on the context, while some appear to be static. Typical examples of static symbols include the Reverend M. Wilson, representing the Church and Governor Bellingham, standing for the State.
Nathaniel Hawthorne appears to be one of the most outstanding symbolist in American literature and the study of his symbols is urgently required to properly understand his novels. In simple terms, a symbol can be defined as something utilized to stand for something else.