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The Scarlett Letter Essay

In: English and Literature

Submitted By A1yissa
Words 1213
Pages 5
Alyissa Li Brown
Mrs. Dick
American Literature
October 19, 2012
The Many Shades of Red The color red: it is beautiful, rich, and full of meaning. It represents many different things in today’s world such as love, danger, and revenge. Similarly, in the novel, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the color red is especially prominent. Color is important in this novel because every color has symbolic meaning behind it. This device of symbolism is used well in the novel, especially through the color red. It is the most important color because it is used the most, in the title of the book, and the color of the ‘A’. The color red symbolizes passion, shame and ultimately love. In The Scarlet Letter, it begins with a detailed description of a rose bush which symbolizes Hester and her passion. Roses are obviously red so immediately, red is going to be a very important color. In the following quote, it describes the rose bush and how it represents Hester: “This rose bush by a strange chance, has been kept alive in history; but whether it had merely survived out of the stern old wilderness, so long after the fall of the gigantic pines and oaks that originally overshadowed it, - or whether, as there is fair authority for believing, it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson, as she entered the prison-door, - we shall not take upon us to determine” (50). This is the first encounter with red. It is the description of a wild red rosebush growing outside the prison where Hester was imprisoned. This is representing Hester’s pride and passion, growing in a place not fitting; similar to how Hester’s passion did not fit in with the Puritan society. The soft, red roses offer a small but bold contrast to the strict, black and white world of the Puritans. She is the rebellious and beautiful, yet dangerous flower which is intriguing to the eye, yet different from the rest of the surrounding Puritan world of Boston. Another time Hester shows passion is in the forest scenes when she took off her letter ‘A’ for the first time. Hester was finally filled with life again when she did so and the following quote shows how she felt: “A crimson flush was glowing on her cheek, that had been long so pale” (218). This quote shows Hester beginning to be passionate again because the red color on her cheeks was coming back. When Hester removes the scarlet letter, she is so elated and her cheeks that had long been pale before were no longer pale. This is the first time she has been passionate in awhile.
The next thing the color red symbolizes is shame. When Hester publicly receives her letter ‘A’, there is a lot of shame she feels because all eyes are on her. The following quote shows Hester blushing as she stood in front of a crowd: “In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her towns-people and neighbors” (55). The burning blush symbolizes shame. As Hester stands before a crowd receiving her stigma of shame, her cheeks blush with a burn meaning her cheeks turn red because she is feeling shame. Hester accepts this punishment because she flashes that “haughty smile” at the townspeople showing them she’s not afraid to wear the ‘A’. In this way, Hester will not let the stigma conquer her.
The letter ‘A’, which is also red, symbolizes shame as well. It is so extraordinary and uniquely designed making it stand out from everything else. The following quote gives a more detailed description of the ‘A’: “On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold-thread, appeared the letter A” (56). This is another example of shame because the letter ‘A’ stands out in red. This red ‘A’ stands out from Hester’s dark clothes making it even more prominent. The significance of the color is shame but because it is so beautiful it should almost be a treasure to wear rather than a burden.
Not only is Hester feeling shame, but Dimmesdale feels shame because of his sins as well. Dimmesdale is a well respected man in the town of Boston so therefore confessing his sins is hard for him because he does not want to lose that respect. He is feeling guilt and shame for his sins and the following quote shows it: "He hath done a wild thing ere now, this pious Mr. Dimmesdale, in the hot passion of his heart" (188). The image of “hot passion of his heart” is just so vividly bright red that it shows how shameful and guilty Dimmesdale is feeling. Not confessing is only making it worse for him because it is eating away at his soul and is literally destroying his bodily condition.
The third emotion the color red symbolizes is love. Hester may have committed sin, but she has a lot of love. Pearl was the product of her sin, but Hester does not care because she loves Pearl the most. The following quote tells how Hester dressed Pearl in red: “But it was a remarkable attribute of this garb, and, indeed, of the child's whole appearance, that it irresistibly and inevitably reminded the beholder of the token which Hester Prynne was doomed to wear upon her bosom. It was the scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life” (106). Hester dresses the Pearl in scarlet, presenting her as a little scarlet letter. Just like the ‘A’ is embroidered with gold like a treasure, Pearl is dressed in red because she is Hester’s treasure. Even if the Puritans don’t see Pearl as a treasure, Hester does because she loves Pearl unconditionally.
The love between Hester and Dimmesdale is best symbolized in the very last sentence of the novel. “On a field, sable, the letter A, gules" (281) is the headstone shared by Hester and Dimmesdale when they died. This quote literally translates to, "On a black background, the letter 'A' in red”. The fact that Hester and Dimmesdale can be buried next to each other means that the Puritan community has forgiven them both of their sin and they can be together forever. The legend of their love continues even after their death.
Love, shame, and passion were the three emotions the color red symbolized. All of these emotions proved to be a big representation of the color red. Hester’s passion was shown through the rose bush and her crimson cheeks. Her shame was shown through her blushing and letter ‘A’. Also, Dimmesdale’s shame was shown through his sins. Lastly, Hester’s love for Pearl was shown through the red clothing and Hester’s love for Dimmesdale was shown through the engraving on the headstone. By far, red was the most dominating color in this novel and Hawthorne gave it more meaning than it ever had before.

Bibliography
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association, 1984. Print.

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