Why does Nathaniel Hawthorne use symbolism in the novel?

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Hawthorne also likely employs symbolism in order to illuminate, more clearly and more visibly, the novel's themes. For example, toward the end of chapter 1, "The Prison Door," Hawthorne introduces two important symbols. The first is the prison, what he calls "the black flower of civilized society." Immediately next to the prison is the second of these two symbols, the "wild rose-bush" which is covered with "delicate gems." He says that it might provide some hope to the prisoner entering the jail that "the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him." The prison itself seems to symbolize society, the Puritans' society specifically, and the way societies try to control human nature, perhaps to the detriment of individuals like Hester and Dimmesdale, and to the detriment of society in general. We are so concerned with rules and punishment that we can lose track of someone's humanity, of our own mercy and compassion.

Further, he continues, "It may serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet moral blossom, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow." Nature will not judge us for breaking society's rules; it can pity us and offer us beauty even when we feel we are at our lowest. It is we who judge one another and try to make that judgment appear natural and right, but Nature embraces the individual no matter what.

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It could be said that Hawthorne uses symbolism for two major reasons. One is that the use of symbolism creates a heightened effect, rendering the story more memorable with the images of dark and light, good and evil, nature and society, freedom and oppression.

Symbolism also lends the novel an intriguing air of ambiguity, leaving open the possibility of several interpretations. For instance, the forest where Hester meets her secret lover Dimmesdale, is rendered as a dark place of sin from a Puritan viewpoint, but can also represent the freedom and wildness of nature and instinct, released from the severe restrictions of Puritan society. As for the scarlet letter itself, its implications too are various. For the Puritans it is a symbol of shame, but it could also be taken as a positive symbol of Hester's defiance, and so on.

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