Nathaniel Hawthorne uses a sizeable number of symbols in his book, The Scarlet Letter. These include rose bushes, letters, trees, scaffolds, colors, etc.. One of these many symbols is that of sunlight. However, its application throughout the book is poorly and inconsistently used, conveying different meanings and significance. Hawthorne applies sunlight as a caring, warm, and admirable source throughout the book, and the same applies in everyday life; He does, nevertheless, change the sunlights attitude towards Hester Prynne, the adulteress of the book. Hawthorne alters the spirit of the sun, and the order in which he does minimizes the credibility of the symbol.
The door of the jail being flung open from within, there appeared, in the first place, like a black shadow emerging into sunshine, the grim and grisly presence of the town-beadle…..When the young woman-the mother of this childstood fully revealed before the crowd…she had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam…(and) the Scarlet Letter, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. -Chapter 2, The Market Place, pgs. 54-56 This passage reveals the first use of sunlight as a symbol. It also shows a major inconsistency upon close examination. Hawthorne uses the beadles emergence as a way to contrast the prison, Hesters current home, and the outside. In Chapter One, Hawthorne describes the market place as dismal and dispiriting where solemn and disapproving townspeople waited to ridicule Hester. Yet the beadles emergence into the sunshine changes the entire attitude of the town outside, awaiting Hester.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was written in 1850. It was based on the Puritans of the 1600's, which were revived in Hawthorne's era. Hawthorne descended from Puritan heritage and harbored a sense of guilt and hatred for their way of life. He used many themes and literary techniques in The Scarlet Letter including symbolism and irony. He emphasized the individual's role in the ...
The sunlight also presents an inconsistency within two pages time. When the sunshine is thrown off Hesters hair, it can be symbolized as warmth and happiness being thrown off someone who has been hardened and saddened. This presents the sunlight as a friendly presence, trying to cheer Hester into a lighthearted state. Yet just a few lines later, Hawthorne describes the Scarlet Letter on Hester being illuminated. The sunlight is now acting as a spotlight in the sky, directing its glare onto Hesters shame and ignominy. The same situation can be applied on page 170 …that not a shining lock of it ever once gushed into the sunshine.. The sportive sunlightfeebly sportive, at best, in the predominant pensiveness of the day and scenewithdrew itself as they came nigh, and left spots where it had danced the drearier, because they had hoped to find them bright. Mother, said little Pearl, The sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom.
Now see! There it is, playing, a good way off. Stand here, and let me ran and catch it. I am but a child. It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet! -Chapter 16, A Forest Walk, pg. 191 This is another instance where the sunlights attitude can be contrasted to itself in other parts of the book. This scene exemplifies the sun as timid where it doesnt want to be near Hester.
All other instances of sunlight have been instances where the sunlight attempts to either cheer Hester up, or magnify and illuminate her scarlet letter. At no time thus far has the sunlight hid from Hester, yet Hawthorne plays his words in this section as if this has been the case all along. This can also be discredited when Pearl is taken into account further. What little bird of scarlet plumage may this be? Methinks I have seen just such figures, when the sun has been shining through a richly painted window, and tracing out the golden and crimson images across the floor. Chapter 8, The Elf Child and the Minister, pg. 113 This passage is where Hawthorne creates a symbiotic relationship between sunlight and Pearl.
He states clearly that Pearl is the sunlight, which furthers the argument that Hawthornes use of sunlight changes dramatically throughout the play. If Pearl is sunlight, then how can sunlight run from Hester in the forest, yet live with her and stay next to her side all the time? Furthermore, this emphasizes the prospect that sunlight plays as a spotlight on Hesters shame, since Pearl consistently points at Hesters letter, and throws things at it, and refuses to approach Hester unless the A is on her bosom. Pearl is supposed to be the only hope for Hester though- the sunshine in her life, the friendliness that sunlight usually portrays. Throughout the Scarlet Letter, sunlight depicts the grace of Heaven- a source of happiness and warmth. This is portrayed when the sunlight pours upon Hester upon her emergence from the jail, but is reflected by her hair, showing that she has lost all cheerfulness; Pearl as the only reason that Hester does not join the Black Man of the Forest. Sunlight also represents a source of evil and humiliation by crystallizing Hesters scarlet letter.
Chapter Summaries Chapter 1 This chapter briefly introduces seventeenth-century Boston, where a group of Puritans stand in front of a somber prison or a black flower of civilized society, which seems older that its age. The area around the prison is gray and gloomy. Decay and ugliness are apparent in the author's descriptions, the only exception is a lovely wild rosebush, whose origin is ...
This instance can be affirmed whenever Hester looks at herself in a mirror and sees an illuminated scarlet letter, and the many times that she describes the sunlight focusing on clarifying her letter as a sort of limelight. It can also be substantiated when Pearl, a representation of sunlight, points at the letter. This pointing represents a ray of light shining upon Hesters letter. Hester is characterized as dark and sorrowful, and light that is stressed on her letter plays a crucially important role in highlighting her sin. Thirdly, sunlight is represented as a weak force, running away from Hester as if she is all that is evil, and sunlight is all that is good, yet more delicate and unable to stand up to the iniquity. Sunlight is used inconsistently as a symbol, depicting various, opposing forces that dramatically contrast each other and detract from the credit ability..