Literature. “The Scarlet Letter” by N. Hawthorne


“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne is an excellent piece of literature enabling us to examine the way symbolism may be applied in order to reveal the most appealing ideas and address the most complicated issues of human life. This romantic work discusses a row of important problems existing within the community of people it speaks about. Generally, such important themes as legalism, guilt, immorality, and sin are related in the novel and even the very title of the novel featuring the word “scarlet” or extremely red highlights the ideas of sinful practices described in the novel along with the need to repent.

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Addressing a row of important lessons which can be derived from “The Scarlet Letter”, it can be very beneficial to do so in terms of their connection to the historical background of this important literary work. The novel presents a row of deep ideas that can be efficiently analyzed by means of historicism helping see all the riches of thought and morality which are incorporated into this inimitable piece of literature. Evaluating the text, the first thing to be mentioned is the period of time when the text was written. The novel was created in 1850. This was the period when moral values underwent serious changes in western society. Such a situation established a ground for active discussions in this field. Hawthorne can be acclaimed for his findings in moral discussions which were praised not only by his contemporaries but by the next generations of critics and readers. Discussing this novel from a historical point of view helps see the depth of the moral issues addressed in it. This is especially so with regards to the period of time when it was written and the common way of thinking prevailing during those days. In addition, the novel addresses the theme of punishing sins, and the measure of severity that should be applied during punishing sinners.

The issues raised by Hawthorne through the historical symbolism of this novel are many. Among them are effects of sin, moral values, being religious, seeking for God’s forgiveness, finding a way to cope with a feeling of guilt and pain, the extent to which society may interfere into someone’s personal affairs, and the actuality of “Puritan” (or too strict) values in the contemporary society. Such serious issues were often addressed during the end of the nineteenth century as the society affected by the ideas of progress including industrialization and capitalization decided to revaluate the standards of morality. Discussing the facts which “The Scarlet Letter” reveals about the community it speaks about, it appears that Hawthorne acts as a psychologist and the expert of human hearts with profound knowledge concerning the ruining effects of the feeling of guilt and the desire to revenge. The author seems to invoke the society not to be too strict to people who repent as their feeling of guilt is their biggest “torture stake” which they must face from day today. Hawthorne describes the severest feeling of bitterness the main heroine has in the following words: “be it sin or no,” said Hester Prynne bitterly, “I hate the man!”” (Hawthorne 234). This feeling is enough for a punishment; so, Hawthorne appeals to the society with a petition to show mercy for such people as Hester Prynne.

Speaking about the symbolism of this novel, scarlet color is to be addressed. Scarlet is a well-known allusion to sin and guilt which is commonly applied since the days when Hebrew Scriptures were written. There, this color was applied with regard to the sinful nature of the whole human race. As this literature piece is the addresses the themes of living in the Puritan society which was famous for its piety and devotion to the Holy Scriptures it is no wonder that the author resorts to the use of this symbol. In addition, the symbol of scarlet “A” meaning “adulterer” was connected to the image of the adulterer “Babylon the Great” from the Bible. The harlot was wearing the clothing of this scarlet color, and she was a fountain of all sorts of sinful adulterous practices.


In conclusion, “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne can be evaluated as a meaningful piece of literature addressing a row of important social issues including sinful practices, subtraction, feeling of guilt, and repentance. Hawthorne applies the symbol of scarlet “A” meaning “adulterer” which the heroine was wearing as a sign of her sinful. Through such symbolism, the author is able to get one’s audience involved in a serious meditation on the themes of morality and sin along with public opinion about these crucial issues. “The Scarlet Letter” helps understand such important moral lessons as the necessity to forgive those who repent and offer them a second chance in life. In this vein, the experience of the main heroine Hester Prynne and the response to her actions from the other characters described in the novel appears to be emblematic

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter, New York: Bantam Classics, 1981. Print.

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