Motifs In The Scarlet Letter

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Often times, we interpret a novel at its face value, only reading the text on the page instead of really delving into the true meaning behind that text. Since that meaning is not explicitly stated, different readers can develop different interpretations of the same text. This idea of repeated hidden meanings throughout a novel is classified as a motif, and most of the time motifs are used in order to subtly convey ideas to the reader through seemingly plain text. In the Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses motifs and symbols to convey subtle ideas, one example being his harsh criticism of Puritan culture. One of the most prominent motifs in his novel is the Black Man, an imaginary being who Hawthorne equates to the devil. Hawthorne employs…show more content…
Hester is accused of adultery, and is forced by the city magistrates to wear a scarlet letter A on her chest for the rest of her life. She is forced to wear the mark, living with the “pang of it … always in her heart.” (78) Although she initially tries to degrade the negative connotation of the scarlet letter by decorating it and covering it up, she grows to accept “the scarlet letter flaming on her breast” (118), and the letter only increases her strength. The letter, although not a physical punishment, affects her more on a social and emotional level, isolating her from society and drawing ridicule from townsfolk. Her isolation leads her to connect with only a limited few, including Mistress Hibbins, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth. More important than its meaning is the letter’s connection to the mark of the Black Man. The letter is a symbol of Hester’s sin, a mark telling society to stay away because of the awful evil she has committed. However, this letter A is also the mark of the Black Man. According to the “old dame[,] … [the] scarlet letter was the Black Man’s mark,” (277-278) , a symbol of one’s allegiance to the powers of evil. Hawthorne purposefully instills this connection, and forces the reader to more closely at the parallel. When questioned by Pearl, Hester sheds light on her letter, saying that she did “Once in [her] life I [meet] the Black Man” (278), and that the “scarlet letter is [in fact] his mark!” (278) Hester only internally realizes the connection between the Black Man and Chillingworth, but her claim leads the reader to understand the true relationship between the two connotations of her scarlet
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