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The Scarlet Letter: Symbolism of Light and Darkness in the Scaffold Scenes

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The Scarlet Letter: Symbolism of Light and Darkness in the Scaffold Scenes

Nathaniel Hawthorne's, The Scarlett Letter is a novel that is overflowing with powerful imagery. Two of these symbols are light and dark, but the importance of these symbols is often overlooked. During the scaffold scenes the images of light and dark are used often. Hawthorne uses the three scaffold scenes and the symbols of light and darkness to signify hidden truths and dark secrets.

The first scaffold scene takes place in broad daylight with Hester and Pearl standing alone on the scaffold being publically humiliated. It seems that even nature was against her as Hawthorne says, "the hot midday sun burning down upon her face, and lighting up its shame" (59, Ch 3). With Reverend Dimmesdale watching, the sunlight attempts to illuminate the truth of Hester's affair to all the townspeople. Her husband Chillingworth, was also affected, as his face "darkened with some powerful emotion" (Hawthorne 57). The darkening of Chillingworth's face is not just a sign of his hate for Hester's illicit behavior, but a symbol of the secret of Pearl's father.

The second scaffold scene contains nearly all the same elements. This time, though, the scene occurs at night, nearly seven years after the novel's action begins. In this darkness Reverend Dimmesdale feels comfortable standing on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl, and acknowledging his sin. This is something that he wouldn't do in the truth revealing sunlight. As Dimmesdale says, "the daylight of this world shall not see our meeting!" (Hawthorne 139). Then, the comet passes and illuminates the family "as if it were the light that is to reveal all secrets, and the daybreak that shall unite all who belong to one another" (Hawthorne 140).

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