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The Scarlet Letter: The Main Themes and Motifs

Literature Class

“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of the most important pieces of the American literature is. This is the most famous and popular novel of this author, just like “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde whose works, except this one, are not so well-known for the audience.

It is true that “The Scarlet Letter” inspired a lot of moviemakers and writers to create something related to this story. It is very valuable for the development of American literature and is dedicated several significant issues. Probably, author’s unique approach to solving a social conflict and analyzing the human nature are the things which have attracted readers of different ages and ethnicity to this novel for dozens of years. Heroes of this book make us sympathize, blame or even hate them. However, it is guaranteed that no one be left cold while reading “The Scarlet Letter”.

The Power of Symbols


Hawthorne was one of the first authors who started using symbols as the most significant elements of the narration, and building the sense of a novel via them. He claimed that it was the best way to present complicated ideas and make the audience muse over different problems and conflicts. Almost all things and even people are symbols in “The Scarlet Letter”. The author uses a lot of allusions and often refers to the Bible. The main reason for it is that he is actually a puritan.

The Main Symbol of the Novel

Alienation is one of the major motifs in this story. Hester is the character who does not follow social rules and puritan concepts, and as a result, she is separated from others and marked by the red “A”. She is much distanced from the community, and no one notices her although she is a strong and unique individuality. The scarlet letter on Hester’s clothes is the symbol of shame and her identity at the same time. The meaning of it is “adulteress”, but the majority of people around this woman understand it as “able” because of her hard work and talent. A bit later, the society stops considering her an offender and notices kindness in her attitude to others. So, those who blamed her start sympathizing and appreciating this woman.

Pearl’s Character

Despite being a particular character, Pearl is also an important symbol in this novel. As we have already mentioned, the author started using characters as allusions to some abstractive things as well. This girl is a sign of Hester’s sin. However, this is not the reason for hating or avoiding her, which could be typical in this situation. Not only does Pearl reminds her mother of the past but she also gives her power to continue living and reaching happiness.

It is the chance for Hester to remember her passion and the reason for committing such a sin. This is also a great impulse for not giving up and moving on, although the woman is alienated by the society. She is also the symbol of salvation, and Hester is ready to cope with all challenges for her safety. For example, she says to a witch that she can tackle anything in order to secure her daughter. Hence, Pearl is one of the most significant symbols via which the author reveals Hester’s temper and position.

The Issue of Sin


Hawthorne pays a lot of attention to the problem of sin. Via his main hero, the author shows that the society may be unfair and deluded by wrong rules and statements. The example of Hester demonstrates that sometimes people are blamed and judged unfairly.

The writer also presents one more sin which is hidden in the context. It is the freedom of thought which Hester tries to reach, even though it is not typical for women of those times. She is a character who fights for her right to be happy, even while being calm with people around her. Hester cannot agree that her sin is graver than her husband’s sin who is dedicated to revenging. It is an innovative approach to writing, as this type of female characters appeared only in the following century.

The Forrest and Town

The world in the novel is divided into two parts: the civilization, which is represented by the town, and the wilderness, which is symbolized by forest. These are two absolutely different systems of behavior and attitude to the human individuality. It is an interesting fact that Hester lives on the line which separates these areas from each other. It is a place located far from the center of a town and the woman can feel peaceful and free there. The civilization is the place where strict social rules work, and Hester is alienated there. However, she is independent in the woods. This is where she meets Dimmesdale and feels the passion which passed years ago.

There are several important points which should be researched and analyzed if you want to catch the sense of this novel. It is a unique story which makes the audience sympathize the woman who commits a sin and makes a grave mistake. On the other hand, it is also an inspirational novel which influences readers by the power and strength of an ordinary female character. Despite being punished and alienated, she does not give up but continues to fight against injustice. This is one of the most brilliant characters in American literature who opposes the society.

In the next post, we will work on one more female character from the widely-known novel “Jane Eyre”.

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