The book The Scarlet Letter is all about symbolism. People and
objects are symbolic of events and thoughts.
course of the book, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses Hester, Pearl, and
Arthur Dimmesdale to signify Puritanic and Romantic philosophies.
Hester Prynne, through the eyes of the Puritans, is an extreme
sinner; she has gone against the Puritan ways, committing
adultery. For this irrevocably harsh sin, she must wear a symbol
of shame for the rest of her life. However, the Romantic
philosophies of Hawthorne put down the Puritanic beliefs.
a beautiful, young woman who has sinned, but is forgiven.
Hawthorne portrays Hester as “divine maternity” and she can do no
wrong. Not only Hester, but the physical scarlet letter, a
Puritanical sign of disownment, is shown through the author’s
tone and diction as a beautiful, gold and colorful piece.
Pearl, Hester’s child, is portrayed Puritanically, as a child of
sin who should be treated as such, ugly, evil, and shamed.
reader more evidently notices that Hawthorne carefully, and
sometimes not subtly at all, places Pearl above the rest. She
wears colorful clothes, is extremely smart, pretty, and nice.
More often than not, she shows her intelligence and free thought,
a trait of the Romantics. One of Pearl’s favorite activities is
playing with flowers and trees.
(The reader will recall that
anything affiliated with the forest was evil to Puritans. To
Hawthorne, however, the forest was beautiful and natural.) “And
she was gentler here the forest than in the grassy-margined
streets of the settlement, or in her mother’s cottage. The
flowers appeared to know it” (194) Pearl fit in with natural
Also, Pearl is always effervescent and joyous, which is
definitely a negative to the Puritans. Pearl is a virtual
shouting match between the Puritanical views and the Romantic
To most, but especially the Puritans, one of the most important
members of a community is the religious leader; Arthur Dimmesdale
is no exception. He was held above the rest, and this is proven
in one of the first scenes of the book.
As Hester is above the
townspeople on a scaffold, Dimmesdale, Governor Wilson, and
others are still above her. But, as the reader soon discovers,
Arthur Dimmesdale is his own worst enemy. He hates himself and
must physically inflict pain upon himself. “He thus typified the
constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not
purify, himself” to never forget what he has done (141).
Dimmesdale, it is bad that Hester is shown publicly as a sinner,
but people forget that. What is far worse than public
shame is Dimmesdale’s own cruel inner shame. Knowing what only
he and Hester know, the secret eats away at every fiber of
Dimmesdale’s being. As the Puritans hold up Dimmesdale, the
Romantics level him as a human.
The Scarlet Letter is a myriad of allegorical theories and
philosophies. Ranging from Puritanic to Romantic, Nathaniel
Hawthorne embodies his ideas to stress his Romantic philosophies
through Pearl, Hester, and Dimmesdale throughout all of this.