What does the forest symbolize in The Scarlet Letter?
The forest symbolizes a departure from the rules and restrictions of the society. The forest has an element of secrecy that allows Hester and her lover, Dimmesdale to meet privately. The fact that Hester's house is on the outskirts of town is a metaphor for how she lives in the middle between the repression and expectations of society and the freedom of the forest.
In the Scarlet Letter, the contrast between the town and the forest persists throughout the novel. The town is a symbol for the Puritans' strict rules and restictions, the society that imposes its' judgement on Hester. The forest serves as an opposing symbol: that of the free and wild side of life. Life with no restrictions, standards, or limitations. It is wild, unmoderated, and free. While Hester is tempted by the freedom the woods would offer her from the peircing gaze of the town, she knows in her heart that it is not where she should raise Pearl. The "Black Man", the Devil in the story, lives in the woods and enlists his servants there. It is a place with no restrictions, and therefore dangerous and evil results. The over-imposing town and the tempting but evil forest both hold a part of Hester, and she belongs to neither; this is why she lives on the outskirts of both, venturing into the forest for her secretive talk with Dimmesdale, and into the town for her confrontation with Chillingsworth.
I believe that the forest acted as a safe haven. It was a place that one could be his own self. It was also the place where you could get in touch with how you feel.
I believe that forest symbolizes nutrality. A safe place to interact without the fear of being judged or gosiped about.