Generally speaking, a symbol is something used to stand for something else.
The reader is thus invited to consider the whole story as a progressive uncovering of the "truth" of a symbol that constitutes one of the most enigmatic elements of American literature.
Critics over the years focused on this search for a hidden significance, and put forward their own interpretation of this "truth. Instead of offering my own A-word as a key to understanding Nathaniel Hawthorne's masterpiece, I would like to focus on the notion of symbol itself, and on the way the author organizes this search for a meaning.
The narrator frequently uses this word throughout the romance, and its various occurrences enable us to shape a definition that corresponds to his personal use of symbols. From this starting point, I would like to show how Hawthorne stages the interpretative process within The Scarlet Letter, and how this provides keys for the reader on how to read them.
The word "symbol" and its meaning in The Scarlet Letter First, I would like to provide a few basic elements on the definitions of allegory and symbol as I will use them in this analysis.
Starting from that definition, Poe's analysis of Hawthorne's works as "allegorical" can be qualified, especially in The Scarlet Letter in which Hawthorne blatantly refuses some key aspects of an allegorical mode of representation. I will try to demonstrate that the scarlet "symbol," as well as its full-fledged equivalent Pearl, pertains on the contrary to a symbolic mode of representation.
Both partake of the creation of a spiritual meaning, and enable the author to provide several layers of interpretation. The distinction between the two figures appeared later and was shaped mainly by German romantics.
The distinction between symbol and allegory can be organized around three main points. The two elements remain distinct and the object's sole function is to suggest the secondary meaning. Justice as a blindfold woman carrying scales and a sword can be used as an example to clarify matters.
The woman does not exist at the first level of understanding; she does not have a name or a personal history. Using such an image only aims at indirectly referring to the abstract idea of justice which exists outside of such a representation. On the other hand, the symbol has a syncretic value: The interpretation of allegory is finite, whereas that of symbol is infinite.
The blindfold woman represents the concept of justice, and that figure could be replaced by the concept without losing any meaningful element.
On the contrary, if a symbol is assigned one definite meaning, some of its reality as a literary object is ignored. Understanding allegories requires cultural knowledge, whereas the comprehension of symbol is intuitive. One must learn what the blindfold woman stands for, or to guess one must reflect upon her various attributes and relate them to the cultural idea of justice.
The figure does not appeal to sensitivity, and emotions are not part of the understanding process. Hawthorne's definition should be set within the theoretical debate opposing allegory and symbol that first appeared in Goethe's works.
Hawthorne's knowledge of German, although limited according to his wife, enables us to assume that he was at least acquainted with these theories. Moreover, the question of understanding symbols is largely common among intellectuals at the time, since Champollion's discovery of the meaning of hieroglyphs had a great impact on various authors of the American Renaissance.
According to John Irwin, Champollion isolated a series of signs that could not be deciphered and that are tantamount to the symbolic signs per se; these "anaglyphs" correspond to the lost wisdom of the Egyptians. Starting from that definition, I would first like to show that the scarlet letter is endowed with many characteristics pertaining to a symbolic mode.
This contribution aims to describe how, in The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne ventured far into the realm of romantic symbol, discovered the ambiguities and uncertainties related to such a mode of expression, and attempted at providing a number of answers to the problems he encountered.
However, it is far from certain that he considered these answers as satisfactory. I would like to submit the hypothesis that this is the reason why Hawthorne abandoned such a mode and returned to a more classic allegorical mode, at least up to the unfinished undertaking known as The Elixir of Life Manuscripts.
Hawthorne's definition of "symbol" When commenting upon his first volume of Tales, Edgar Allan Poe indicates that Hawthorne "is infinitely too fond of allegory, and can never hope for popularity as long as he persists in it. Jorge Luis Borges, in an article devoted to Nathaniel Hawthorne's stylistic technique, refers to the habit Hawthorne had of writing down in his Notebooks central ideas that would later constitute the backbone of his tales, thus starting from the "moral" of the tale to elaborate a narrative that will illustrate this moral.
The example of "Egotism or the Bosom Serpent" is probably the most appropriate. An entry dated from in the Notebooks hints at a possible idea for a tale in such terms: But Hawthorne's use of "allegory" already bears traces of the romantic symbol, and especially puts forward the idea that the snake has a real existence.
He repeatedly insists upon the materiality of the serpent, especially in the final scene when Roderick is finally delivered: At that moment, if report be trustworthy, the sculptor beheld a waving motion through the grass, and heard a tinkling sound, as if something had plunged into the fountain.
This fusion of the spiritual meaning - Roderick acted unselfishly and is delivered from his egotism - and the material aspect - the serpent left his bosom - thus presides over the conclusion of the tale, bringing a tinge of romantic flavor to his allegorical dish.
But it is interesting to remark that Poe used the term "allegory," whereas Hawthorne preferred that of "symbol" in The Scarlet Letter. This underlines a major inflection in Hawthorne's use of this type of stylistic figure, from the "Allegories of the heart" to The Scarlet Letter.
No less than twenty-four occurrences of the noun or the verb can be numbered, delineating a definition of symbol that undoubtedly leans towards that of the German romantics.Analysis of Pearl in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter Word Count Includes Outline at the End of the Paper The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a book of much symbolism.
One of the most complex and misunderstood symbols in the book is Pearl, the illegitimate daughter of Hester Prynne and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale.
As contradictory as this may sound, it has been explored in depth by Nathaniel Hawthorne who chronicles one man's battle against himself in The Scarlet Letter.
In this novel, an anguished Arthur Dimmesdale struggles to pacify his conscience and withhold the secret of his sin from being known. Symbol and Interpretation in Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter.
By Dr. Stephanie Carrez paper delivered at the conference of the Nathaniel Hawthorne Society, celebrating the . Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter can be characterized as “a love story” – despite the brunt of the story focusing on the conflicts of sin and hypocrisy, the romantic dynamic between Hester Prynn, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth is the basis of many of the events and serves as a .
The scarlet letter made her what she became, and, in the end, she grew stronger and more at peace through her suffering. Previous Chapter 24 Next Arthur Dimmesdale. The Scarlet Letter is a classic novel written by Nathaniel Hawthorne which entangles the lives of two characters Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale together through an unpardonable sin-adultery.
With two different lifestyles, this act of adultery affects each of them differently.