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Symbols Show Hope in "the Scarlet Letter"

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In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the Puritan community banned all forms of sin. Sin was looked upon as evil, being connected to the devil and his dark ways. Hester Prynne, the main character of the story, was shunned by the rest of the Puritan world after committing the sin of adultery. She lived in a world where it was not accepted. She was isolated from the world around her, having little hope. Throughout the novel, symbols such as the character of the kind woman, the wild rose bush outside of the prison doors and the character of Pearl, Hester Prynne’s illegitimate child, are used to show that even in a world full of sin and darkness, there is always hope.

In The Scarlet Letter hope is symbolized through characters such as the kind woman. After Hester leaves her jail cell in the first few chapters of the book after spending months in it through pregnancy, she is forced to stand in front of the town holding her illegitimate newborn baby. She is surrounded by people who criticize her. There is one woman however, who does not give into all the gossip. This kind woman as she has come to be called, defends Hester on two occasions. The first time, women of the community were passing judgment on Hester for the crime she committed. Instead of joining in their conversation the young woman said to the others, “...let her cover the mark as she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart.” (49) Later on in the same scene the kind woman shows her compassion a second time, stating, “Oh, peace, neighbors, peace!” whispered their youngest companion; “do not let her hear you! Not a stitch in that embroidered letter, but she has felt it in her heart.” (51) Once again she is the only person to defend Hester. She becomes symbolic of hope that Hester can someday return to a normal life where people accept her as part of the community and where they do not judge her, a place where she is no longer isolated from the outside world. In a sense the kind woman is Hester Prynne’s hope.

The second symbol of hope throughout the sin and darkness of the novel is the wild rose bush that grew outside the doors of the prison. The prison, which is described as dreadful and unpleasant, is where Hester lives in the months during her pregnancy and the few following. Outside of the prison grows an area of weeds and in the midst of them, out of place against their dullness stands a rose bush with a single red blossom. This rose bush is full of beauty, something that the Puritan community would have shunned: "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." (Chapter 1, pg. 46) The rose bush is similar to Hester in the fact that it stands out against the “grayness” of its surroundings.

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