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Symbolism in the Scarlet Letter: Flowers

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People often overlook obscure details due to a variety of reasons. In The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, symbols are notable and powerful sources of percipience. Throughout the story, the author uses flowers as messengers of hope, love, forgiveness, and other emotions. In the novel, the disparity of wild-flowers and similarities between a rose and Hester show the threat of sin to Puritan ideology.

To begin, wild-flowers are thrown at the scarlet letter to reflect the Puritan principles that Hester Prynne neglects to follow. While in the forest, Pearl gathers handfuls of wild-flowers and flings them at her mother’s scarlet letter. Hester instinctively moves to “cover her bosom with her clasped hands”, but “from resignation” and a “feeling that her penance might best be wrought out by this unutterable pain, she [resists] the impulse” as the “battery of flowers” covers her “breast with hurts that no balm exists for in the world (Hawthorne 49).” Wild-flowers are associated with innocence and purity and compares favorably to a good Purian’s virtues.

Most wild-flowers are ordinary on the outside with golden pollen inside. From a historical artistic perspective, a good Christian is plain on the outside and conceals his or her beauty and wealth. However, on the inside they possess a heart of gold and valiant compassion. These flowers stand in sharp contrast to Hester’s tainted character. She is a sinner who commits adultery, flaunts her beauty excessively, and refuses to respond to questions about her affair. The flowers can even be compared to the community taunting and mocking her in the first scaffold scene. By symbolically barraging Hester with wild-flowers, it is almost as if she is being chastised for not being a wild-flower, like the other Puritans. Thus, the wild-flowers, as a representation of purity and an ideal Puritan, contrast with Hester’s danger to the society’s ethical code.

Next, the rose represents Hester’s character and her menace to the moral standards of her community. Puritan children are schooled from a young age about the bible and God. When Mr. Wilson asks Pearl who produced her, she says the “heavenly father” did not create her, but that she was “plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison door (Hawthorne 63).” Roses are thought of as symbols of love and passion. It is no accident that Pearl is “plucked” from this bush because she is the conception of Dimmesdale and Prynne’s love. The rose petals give the impression of Hester’s lust and hunger while its thorns represent her misdeed’s moral hazard.

This thorn of sin can grow into Puritan society and instigate other members of her community to commit similar acts of disgrace. As a result, the village’s pursuit of virtue spurns them to punish her. By doing so, the colony can halt sinful thoughts that Prynne’s misbehavior provokes and eradicate the growth of her thorns. Also, the fact that the roses grow by a “prison door” shows a relation to immorality and the devil. Prisons, much like hell, are dark and harbor sinful and malicious souls. The rose bush grows in close proximity to the prison door and parallels with the malevolent characteristics Hester and the Devil share. Without doubt, the overwhelming comparison of Mistress Prynne and the rose bush coincide with the devilish influence her crime exerts on the community.

In conclusion, powerful stories often obscure important and stimulating details. The Scarlet Letter is no exception and it overflows with significant emblems that offer substantial insight. In conclusion, Hawthorne employs wild-flowers to show the difference between Hester Prynne and the Puritan’s moral qualities, while the author implements roses to illustrate her sin’s danger to the community’s righteous values.

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