What figurative language is used in Chapter 19 of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 19 of The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne employs the figurative language of symbolism, analogy, simile, metaphor, and personification. Incidentally and interestingly enough, it is the non-literal figurative language (tropes) in Chapter 19 that answers the oft asked question, "What is the meaning of Pearl?"

Some of these are seen as follows. Hawthorne starts with symbolism in Pearl's name (foreshadowing the importance of this chapter to understanding the meaning of Pearl) and ends the chapter with personification as he gives the forest and the brook human characteristics. The forest has "multitudinous tongues" and the brook is "melancholy" and "overburdened." The symbol of Pearl's name is drawn out in the analogy comparing Pearl's adornment of wild flowers to the adornment of "pearls, and diamonds, and rubies."

Another analogy is introduced by Dimmesdale and compares his looks to Pearl's as his features are "repeated in her face" for people to "trace whose child she is." Hawthorne carries the analogy further via a symbol making Pearl the "visible tie that united" Dimmesdale and Hester. Using a simile, he continues the analogy further still by saying Pearl is "as the living hieroglyph" in which their "secret ... so darkly" hides. He finalizes the analogy by declaring Pearl is a "symbol" in which the "character of the flame!" of the heat of the passion that joined Dimmesdale and Hester could be read. Hawthorne uses metaphor to say that Pearl is symbolically Dimmesdale and Hester's "material union," or physical union, their "spiritual idea," in whom they "dwell immortally together."

In another metaphor spoken by Hester, Pearl is a "fitful and fantastic little elf" from England, whom Hester thus sets up as a foreshadow of their expected happiness. Hawthorne emphasizes Pearl's other-worldly qualities with a Biblical allusion and foreshadowing of his own when he describes Pearl as being "all glorified with a ray of sunshine." Glorification alludes to Jesus' transfiguration in the garden and, in company with the dual Pearls (on the shore and in the brook), foretells Pearl's own upcoming transfiguration, but one of a different nature and one foretelling in its own right an alternate outcome of Hester's expectations. Later, Hawthorne also bathes Hester in a simile of sunshine:

her beauty, the warmth and richness of her womanhood, departed, like fading sunshine.

missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 19, there are several instances of figurative language. In the quote:

In her was the visible tie that united them.

This metaphor in the word "tie" compares a rope or something that can be tied to the connection that is made between Hester and Dimmsdale. This word is sort of ironic because to be tied feels like it is a connection that is a have to  or a forced connection.

Just after this quote, there is one that has symbolism, allusion, word play, and parallelism:

She had been offered to the world... as the living hieroglyphic, in which was revealed the secret they so darky sought to hide, - all written in this symbol, - all plainly manifest, - had there been a prophet or magician skilled to read the character of flame!

In here, we see "hieroglyphic" used as an allusion to an Egyptian character that scientists and archeologists still marvel over for explanation to the mysteries of ancient Egyptian culture. That same word is used as a symbol to represent Pearl, the child that is difficult to read. The words "symbol" and "the character of flame" could have two meanings, Pearl and/or the literal scarlet letter on Hester's breast. Both meanings work here. This also demonstrates connotation and denotation because there may be an understood and hidden meaning to each phrase. Finally, in between the dashes, we have two parallel in grammatical structure phrases. This is the rhetorical device known as parallelism.

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The Scarlet Letter

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