The Scarlet Letter: Symbolism and the Pursuit of Identity Essay example

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Human identity is a perplexing concept, one that is difficult to define and often challenging for people themselves, whether philosophers or everyday citizens, to come to terms with. In his novel The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses an elaborate array of duplicitous symbols in order to illustrate that individual lives cannot be defined by a single, solitary characteristic or event. The symbols of the scarlet letter itself, the scaffold, and the setting of the forest all contain a certain duality of meaning that highlight the variety within the human identity. Over the course of the novel, the symbol of the scarlet letter acquires two separate meanings, each reflecting the way Hester's character is identified according to …show more content…
Hawthorne's disproval of this human reality is solidified by the fact that the scarlet letter does not retain its onerous, shameful characteristics (in their entirety) for the duration of the novel: “The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her—so much power to do, and power to sympathise—that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification” (183). This shift in connotation for the letter parallels the unfolding duality in Hester's own identity, therefore suggesting that her whole character cannot be merely defined by the instance of her sin, and likewise that she has many inherently good qualities within her personality. Hawthorne is not singularly speaking about the person of Hester; he rather uses her, and the scarlet letter, to illustrate that every human individual cannot be defined by one solitary event or trait. As the scarlet letter comes to have dual meaning, and as Hester's persona adopts the meanings of the letter, so too does human identity have multiple facets. Modeling this concept, she demonstrates that the nature of identity should not be solely based on the mistakes or shortcomings one has made, because they are only a single piece of one's character. Initiating and concluding the novel, the setting of the scaffold is a second duplicitous symbol that acquires both a negative and

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