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The Theme of Interpretation in The Scarlet LetterMany of the characters in The Scarlet...

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The Theme of Interpretation in The Scarlet Letter

Many of the characters in The Scarlet Letter spend a lot of time
interpreting symbols and events. The most obvious example is the scarlet letter itself. The letter is supposed to signify "adulteress," but some of the characters interpret it to mean "able," among other meanings.

During the scene on the scaffold at night, the characters see a
meteorite fly over and speculate what meaning it might signify. The rose bush beside the prison in Chapter 1 is meant to signify something important, but it's not entirely clear what. Hawthorne himself offers several possible explanations before calling it a symbol of some "sweet moral blossom," which is itself an ambiguous expression.

At the end of the novel, Hawthorne offers a moral to his story, but it is in the form of an "escutcheon" on a grave and the following comments: "On a field, sable, the letter A, gules." What does this "moral" really mean? We as readers are left to interpret TSL the book just as the characters are left to interpret the scarlet letter on Hester's gown.

Do you think interpretation is a theme of TSL? If so, what is Hawthorne's point? Or do you think Hawthorne likes the mists and shadows of ambiguity for their aesthetic effect?


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litteacher8's profile pic

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I agree that the reader does have to make some of the meaning for himself here.  After all, that is the case with most books.  The rose bush might be foreshadowing, for example, of how something good can come out of something bad.

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Certainly, there is Hawthorne's signature ambiguity in The Scarlet Letter. After all, life is often ambiguous and variable. And, matters of conscience are never easily decided--this is the message of Hawthorne. Much of the narrative of the novel revolves around Hester's and Arthur Dimmesdale's introspections and conflicts with their guilt and other feelings.  For example, there are a couple of occasions in which Hester contemplates her death, and often that of Pearl, even, as better than her suffering.

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