Anyone who has studied Nathaniel Hawthorne for long knows that he is rather obsessed with the dark themes of Puritanism, perhaps for good reason, and his condemnations are consistently evident in his writing.
The Scarlet Letter is Hawthorne's master work and it is replete with figurative language of all kinds. In particular, he uses figurative language to condemn the New England Puritan beliefs. The Puritans were consumed with sin: avoiding it, pointing it out in others, and hiding it from everyone else. We all struggle with sin, but the Puritans were not a very forgiving lot. Everything was quite literally black and white with them, at least from Hawthorne's point of view, and he uses settings as one way to depict the darkness of Puritanism.
In all of Hawthorne's writings, the forest is the place where sin abounds and Satan rules. The forest was often personified as a place of evil. In this quote from Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses figurative language to describe Hester's moral state. In chapter 18 he says:
She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness; as vast, as intricate and shadowy, as the untamed forest.
Here Hester's rather tempestuous moral life is compared to a wild and untamed forest. She now lives in a kind of metaphorical forest, though she does not live in the literal forest (but ironically she does live on the outskirts of town, of course). She lives in an isolated moral wilderness as well a literal isolation, and it is all because of her sin which cannot be pardoned. This is in perfect keeping with the Puritan view of sin as personified by the forest.
The House of the Seven Gables is another work in which Hawthorne depicts some of the darker aspects of Puritanism. One of the themes of this novel, according to the author's preface, is the idea of a generational curse, the belief that the sins of the father are visited on the son. This concept is found in Numbers 14:18, which says:
The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.
This sounds just like something that Hawthorne's Puritans would believe and even revel in--at least for other people. When Colonel Pyncheon builds his house on stolen land, the people believe he has established a curse which will be visited upon his family for generations. People told him that
he was about to build his house over an unquiet grave.... The terror and ugliness of Maule’s crime, and the wretchedness of his punishment, would darken the freshly plastered walls, and infect them early with the scent of an old and melancholy house.
The figurative language in this passage includes personification, such as the "unquiet grave" and the "terror and ugliness" which will "infect" the house. The so-called curse does seem to have a life of its own as it rather violently and unexpectedly ends the life of at least three of the Colonel's descendants.
Hawthorne uses language as a weapon against the Puritans, and by using figurative language he ensures that we "feel" each dart of condemnation as he throws them.