A symbol is an object used to stand for something else. Symbolism has a hidden meaning lying within it; these meanings unite to form a more detailed theme. Symbolism is widely used in The Scarlet Letter to help the reader better understand the deep meanings Nathaniel Hawthorne portrays throughout his novel. He shows that sin, known or unknown to the community, isolates a person from their community and from God. Hawthorne also shows this by symbols in nature around the town, natural symbols in the heavens, and nature in the forest.
First, two symbols in the town show how sin isolate people. In the first chapter there is a plant that stands out, But on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rosebush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems (46). It stands out as wild and different among the grass and weeds as Hester does in the Puritan town. She wears her scarlet letter as the rosebush wears its scarlet blossoms. Later in the book Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth (Hesters unknown husband) discuss a strange dark plant that Chillingworth discovered.
I found them growing on a grave that bore no tombstone, nor other memorial of the dead man, save these ugly weeds that have taken upon themselves to keep him in remembrance. They grew out of his heart, and typify, it maybe, some hideous secret that was buried with him, and which he had done better to confess during his lifetime (127). Here there is a man whose sin was not publicly discovered while he was alive. This person tried to keep wrongdoing a secret by hiding it within himself. Yet the sin was too strong to hide and later reveled after his death.
There remains nothing honorable about the place where this person lies, but the weed that grew out of the blackness of this persons heart. The next area is a symbol in the heavens. This occurs during the second famous scaffold scene. Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl are on the scaffold when, a light gleamed far and wide over all the muffled sky. It was doubtless caused by one of those meteors (150). The minister looking upward to the zenith, beheld there the appearance of an immense letter-the letter A- marked out in lines of dull red light (152).
This is a sign of Gods disapproval of the two sinners, especially Dimmesdale. Hester has already been discovered and is receiving her punishment by wearing the scarlet letter. Dimmesdale, however, hides his sin from people and because of this, heaven shows by natural forces that he is no longer welcome. Last to be discussed are the natural symbols that are encountered in the forest. When Hester meets Dimmesdale in the forest, all the sorrow of the past few years is brought up.
The natural surrounding begin to respond to their pain, The boughs are tossing heavily above their heads; while one solemn old tree groaned dolefully to another, as if telling the sad story of the pair that sat beneath, or constrained to forebode evil to come (192). Even the natural world around them could sense the unfairness in their situation and how society has caused them to live a lie or deny themselves what they really want (each other). Later in the same scene Hester and Dimmesdale decide to escape together in a moment of joy, Hester takes off her scarlet letter and threw it on the bank of the river.
She thinks she can remove guilt as easily as the letter itself. When the river does not carry the letter away, it shows she is doomed to her shame. In conclusion, Hawthorne uses symbolism in nature around the town, natural symbols in the heavens, and nature in the forest, to show how sin leads to isolation. The main sinners of this novel are constantly set apart from others, and the whole world is in disapproval. A lesson should be learned from the theme of Hawthornes novel. Isolation is only one of the many effects of sin.