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Despite it's being a novel, Hawthorne is employing a technique almost akin to describing a cinematic scene, in that he is using color to create a specific mood and set of symbols. The colors gray, black and brown are somber, serious, and devoid of life. They are also the traditional colors worn by the common people during this historical period. By emphasizing these colors, Hawthorne creates a symbolic contrast (described in visual terms) between the red letter worn by Hester Prynne and the clothing of the other villagers. Red is traditionally associated with sexuality, passion, and the devil. But it is also the color of blood, and of life. The red letter stands out and broadcasts the sins she is accused of; but without the dark background of these colors, the red would not be as noticeable. This suggests Hester, despite her mistakes, possesses more life and compassion than her accusers.
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