Sunlight as a Symbol in The Scarlet Letter
Uploaded by aphelio62 on Jan 18, 2004
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 sunlight’s 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 child–stood 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 beadle’s emergence as a way to contrast the prison, Hester’s 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 beadle’s emergence into the sunshine changes the entire attitude of the town outside, awaiting Hester. The sunlight also presents an inconsistency within two pages time. When the sunshine is thrown off Hester’s 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 Hester’s 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 sunlight–feebly sportive, at best, in the predominant pensiveness of the day and scene–withdrew itself as they came nigh, and left spots where it had danced the drearier, because they had hoped to find them...