Friday, July 29, 2011

Colors in The Scarlet Letter

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Nathaniel Hawthornes The Scarlet Letter is story about Hestor Prynne, a woman who

commits a sin and is filled with many feelings, including pride, surrounding that sin.

Many of those around Hestors sin reflect similar emotions and feelings. Hawthorne

employs many symbols throughout The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne uses the colors red,

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black, and white to represent Hestors emotions and the emotions of those around her.

The most frequently employed color symbol by Hawthorne is red. Red most obviously

represents Hestors sin, as shown by her scarlet A she is forced to wear. Her scarlet

letter, like her sin, is something she must always deal with and is something she can

never escape. Pearl, the product of Hestors sin, is usually dressed in red clothing,

representing the sin. Pearl is also called the names Ruby, Coral, or red Rose, and a

little bird of scarlet plumage, further extending Pearl as a red representation of Hestors

sin. Red is employed by Hawthorne to show passion and sensuality. The sin is also

represented by the letter A being formed in the sky by meteors, and an A appearing

on Reverend Dimmesdales chest. The first encounter with red is the description of a wild

red rosebush growing outside the prison where Hestor was imprisoned. This is

representing Hestors pride and passion, growing in a place not fitting, similar to how

Hestors passion did not fit in with the Puritan society. As the sunlight shines through a

red and yellow window in the governors house, a red light shines throughout the room.

This is symbolizing Hestors passion spreading throughout the Puritan society.

Hawthorne also uses black and darkness as symbols throughout The Scarlet Letter. Black

is used to represent evil and hiding. Hawthorne calls the prison the black flower of

civilized society, meaning it is evil and a place concealing the truth. Frequently

Hawthorne makes references to darkness turning to light, suggesting darkness as a state

of hiding where the person will not accept lifes experiences and holds back. Pearls eyes

are called a small black mirror, meaning they are empty and filled with sin as they

reflect Hestors scarlet letter. Hawthorne explains black weeds growing from a sinners

grave as evil coming out and dying hope. The Puritans describe Satan as the Black Man

in the forest. Black is used to symbolize the worst and most evil part of an object or


Hawthorne employs white and light to oppose darkness as a state of self- containment.

White most clearly symbolizes purity. Pearl, who has not committed any great sins nor

does she hold herself back from anything, is always portrayed with the light shining on

her. When Hestor removes her scarlet letter and faces her sin and pride, the sunlight

shines on her for the first time. The sunshine is used to express a moment of

enlightenment and change.

Hawthorne uses reds, darkness, and light, to express characters emotions and the state of

their spirit. Red is passion and sin. Darkness represents a poor state with self-denial, as

well as representing simply evil. Light symbolizes a state of enlightenment and a

refreshed spirit, as well as purity. The color symbols in The Scarlet Letter help to transfer

certain themes and ideas to the reader, as they are easily recognized and identified.

Hawthornes symbolism shows the simplest events of one person permeating throughout a


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