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Symbolism, Social Conformity and Personal Desire in The Scarlet LetterOne good thing...

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Symbolism, Social Conformity and Personal Desire in The Scarlet Letter

One good thing about symbols is that they encourage each reader to find their own meaning in them. One arguably bad result is that a book with lots of symbolism leads to disagreement among readers about its ultimate meaning. The act of reading and discussing The Scarlet Letter is itself an illustration of the conflict between a society of readers trying to agree on the book's meaning and the personal desire of each reader to find their own interpretation.

How does Hawthorne use symbolism in The Scarlet Letter to explore this tension between social conformity and individual will? Consider the rose bush in the opening chapter. The bush seems to be some kind of symbol for individual will or personal desire. Hawthorne reviews other interpretations of the bush before he finally offers his own. You might say the bush invites and resists personal interpretation in equal measure. Readers must find their own interpretation of the rosebush, but they must also respect the boundaries of other readers' interpretations--as Hawthorne himself does.

Do you think Hawthorne is showing how in the conflict between the individual and society each must respect the other's boundaries and needs? Do you think Hawthorne believes an ideal balance between social conformity and personal desire is possible? Or do you think he believes that one must suffer for the sake of the other?

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