The Scarlet Letter is all about symbolism. People and objects are symbolic of
events and thoughts. Throughout the course of the book, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses
Hester, Pearl, and Arthur Dimmesdale to signify Puritanic and Romantic
philosophies. Hester Prynne, through the eyes of the Puritans, is an extreme
sinner; she has gone against the Puritan ways, committing adultery. For this
irrevocably harsh sin, she must wear a symbol of shame for the rest of her life.
However, the Romantic philosophies of Hawthorne put down the Puritanic beliefs.
She is a beautiful, young woman who has sinned, but is forgiven. Hawthorne
portrays Hester as “divine maternity” and she can do no wrong. Not
only Hester, but the physical scarlet letter, a Puritanical sign of disownment,
is shown through the author’s tone and diction as a beautiful, gold and colorful
piece. Pearl, Hester’s child, is portrayed Puritanically, as a child of sin who
should be treated as such, ugly, evil, and shamed. The reader more evidently
notices that Hawthorne carefully, and sometimes not subtly at all, places Pearl
above the rest. She wears colorful clothes, is extremely smart, pretty, and
nice. More often than not, she shows her intelligence and free thought, a trait
of the Romantics. One of Pearl’s favorite activities is playing with flowers and
trees. (The reader will recall that anything affiliated with the forest was evil
to Puritans. To Hawthorne, however, the forest was beautiful and natural.)
“And she was gentler here [the forest] than in the grassy-margined streets
of the settlement, or in her mother’s cottage. The flowers appeared to know
it” (194) Pearl fit in with natural things. Also, Pearl is always
effervescent and joyous, which is definitely a negative to the Puritans. Pearl
is a virtual shouting match between the Puritanical views and the Romantic ways.
To most, but especially the Puritans, one of the most important members of a
community is the religious leader; Arthur Dimmesdale is no exception. He was
held above the rest, and this is proven in one of the first scenes of the book.
As Hester is above the townspeople on a scaffold, Dimmesdale, Governor Wilson,
and others are still above her. But, as the reader soon discovers, Arthur
Dimmesdale is his own worst enemy. He hates himself and must physically inflict
pain upon himself. “He thus typified the constant introspection wherewith
he tortured, but could not purify, himself” to never forget what he has
done (141). To Dimmesdale, it is bad that Hester is shown publicly as a sinner,
but people forget that. What is far worse than public shame is Dimmesdale’s own
cruel inner shame. Knowing what only he and Hester know, the secret eats away at
every fiber of Dimmesdale’s being. As the Puritans hold up Dimmesdale, the
Romantics level him as a human. The Scarlet Letter is a myriad of allegorical
theories and philosophies. Ranging from Puritanic to Romantic, Nathaniel
Hawthorne embodies his ideas to stress his Romantic philosophies through Pearl,
Hester, and Dimmesdale throughout all of this.