Motifs In Scarlet Letter

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In literature, motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that help inform the reader of the text’s major themes. Motifs are an important device used in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. This novel takes place in seventeenth century Boston, then a Puritan settlement. At the time, a young adulteress, Hester Prynne, must wear a scarlet “A” on her breast to mark her ignominy. Her secret lover, Arthur Dimmesdale, remains drowning in guilt as he remains unidentified. Consequently, her mischievous daughter, Pearl, lives a harsh youth as an illegitimate child. Meanwhile, her husband, Roger Chillingworth, plans vengeance on her anonymous lover, telling a story with many universal messages and ideas rooted in the plot.…show more content…
A scaffold is a free standing wooden platform used for public humiliation and punishment for sin in Puritan times. The scaffold is an important device, highlighting important themes and events. It is significant throughout the novel, one example including the beginning where “...this scaffold constituted a portion of a penal machine...” (49; ch. 2). In this scene, Hester climbs the scaffold as punishment for her sin of adultery. She faces the shame of the punishment, and holds Pearl so hard that she cries. Another example occurs when Dimmesdale climbs “The same platform or scaffold, black weather-stained with the storm or sunshine of such long years…” (133; ch. 12). In this scene, Dimmesdale finds great relief in confessing his sin on the scaffold. However it is dark, and no one is around to hear him. It is ironic in this manner, for the scaffold represents shame and humiliation. In contrast, Dimmesdale finds it relieving, for his secret sin is scorching inside of him. To further symbolize the relief, a bright comet singes the night sky and crafts an “A”. As mentioned before, light can mean goodness in literature. It stays for a short amount of time, showing a physical representation of Dimmesdale’s relief. One last example includes the end, where “He [Dimmesdale] turned toward the scaffold, and stretched forth his arms” (231; ch. 23). In this scene, Dimmesdale seizes the opportunity to confess his sin to…show more content…
Throughout the novel, vegetation symbolizes the negative and positive traits of the characters. Hawthorne uses different negative variations of plant imagery to illustrate his ideas. Weeds portray the torturing of Dimmesdale by Chillingworth. For example, when Chillingworth went to the forest to gather herbs, he “dug up roots and plucked off twigs from the forest trees” (109; ch. 9). This symbolizes how Chillingworth is “plucking” the life out of Dimmesdale. In addition, weeds symbolize secrecy and impurity of society. For example, when Chillingworth and Dimmesdale converse about “the powers of nature call[ing] so earnestly for the confession of sin, that these black weeds have sprung up out of a buried heart, to make manifest an unspoken crime” (118; ch. 10), it illustrates the idea of weeds stuffing the heart with sin and guilt. In contrast, flowers symbolize purity and righteousness. For example, when Hester and Pearl visit the governor’s house, “Pearl, seeing the rose-bushes, began to cry for a red rose…” (96; ch. 7). This event helps establish Pearl's elfish nature but also her connection with the rose bush and its symbolism. The rose bush represents something beautiful that appears in an ugly setting. In this scene, there is a hint of Pearl’s stubborn personality. There is also her love for nature, which represents both freedom and beauty in the novel. Hawthorne uses plant imagery to develop the themes
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