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In The Scarlet Letter, the letter, a symbol of public shame, is red. However, the...

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quentin1 | (Level 2) Honors

Posted March 28, 2013 at 11:52 PM via web

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In The Scarlet Letter, the letter, a symbol of public shame, is red. However, the rosebush, the meteorite, and Pearl's dress--all symbols of good--are also red. Can you suggest an interpretation of the symbolism of red in The Scarlet Letter that explains all four symbols consistently?

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 20, 2013 at 5:18 PM (Answer #1)

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Realistically speaking, the color red would have been the color of choice among the puritans because it would contrast tremendously with the demure, dark and plain style of their clothing. Since the purpose of the letter is to make Hester stand out from the crowd and be snubbed, red could have been the most salient color.

From a literary perspective, however, the color red has always been associated to love, lust, excitement, and heat. However, like Sigmund Freud would say

Sometimes a cigar, is just a cigar.

The same thing goes with this novel. Standing out from the grim prison door, the rosebush symbolizes that, even in the oddest and most ugly times, there may be something lurking beneath that means to do good. Hester, as we see later, fits that description. Again, the meteorite that leaves the shape of the letter A is red...because it just is. Surely this is also an allusion to the color of the letter, after all, it is meant to stand out. Pearl, as a child who also stands out for being compared to an elfin, is clad in a bright red outfit as not only the color of standing out, but also as the reference to the heat she causes in Hester's life due to Pearl's  hot-blooded nature. She is the blood link between Hester and Dimmesdale and she is in full view. In not so many words, Pearl's red defies the rules of puritanism the way that her mother also defied these rules.

In other words, red is the color that would stand out the most in the novel because everything else from the atmosphere, to the characters, the tone, the themes, and even the setting are described as dark, dingy, old, and even mysterious and nostalgic. The color red contrasts directly with all of these elements of the novel.

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quentin1 | (Level 2) Honors

Posted May 21, 2013 at 6:56 PM (Reply #1)

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Thanks for the answer. I agree that a cigar is sometimes just a cigar. My suggestion is that red might be construed as a symbol of passion and waywardness--to the Puritans passion is dangerous because it leads to social rebellion, but to Hester, passion and rebellion are positive things because they might lead to positive changes in her life. Pearl is a good example.

I think in the value scheme of the novel Hawthorne is showing how human passion and waywardness--as symbolized by red--can lead to dangerous consequences, but they can also lead to positive changes in personal lives and society.

The color red, like human nature and the human heart itself, is beneficial and dangerous all at the same time.

Just a thought!

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quentin1 | (Level 2) Honors

Posted May 21, 2013 at 12:52 AM (Answer #2)

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Thanks for the answer. I agree that a cigar is sometimes just a cigar. My suggestion is that red might be construed as a symbol of passion and waywardness--to the Puritans passion is dangerous because it leads to social rebellion, but to Hester, passion and rebellion are positive things because they might lead to positive changes in her life. Pearl is a good example.

I think in the value scheme of the novel Hawthorne is showing how human passion and waywardness--as symbolized by red--can lead to dangerous consequences, but they can also lead to positive changes in personal lives and society.

The color red, like human nature and the human heart itself, is beneficial and dangerous all at the same time.

Just a thought!

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