Romantic Symbolism

Romantic Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter

As a Romantic writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses a great deal of imagery in his novel, The Scarlet Letter. An advocate of Romanticism, he often uses colors as well as lights and darks to introduce ideals of the Romantic movement. Woven carefully into the storyline, colors are used to contrast order versus spontaneity, the irrational over the rational, and society versus the individual. Light contrast, too, is applied to establish particular moods, reinstate Romantic themes, and emphasize morality. In this way, both colors and light play an integral role in the symbolic development of The Scarlet Letter.

From the very beginning of the novel, the color red is established as a symbol for sin. Although Henry James feels as though this application is "overdone at times,  the color red is, nevertheless, a ubiquitous element. When the red rose bush is first described outside the jail, the reader begins to recognize the connection between the color red and sin. This connection is made complete when Hester is forced to wear the bright red letter "A  across her chest. Its shocking shade of scarlet reminds the town of her iniquities. Chillingworth, too, is described in red. Even though his sin is unrecognized by the townspeople, his eyes have a red spark similar to that of a burning flame. The color red is, perhaps, the most frequently applied symbol in the novel. Whether it appears in the rose bush outside the jail, the meteorite that shoots through the night sky, or the blush on Hester's cheek, "Hawthorne returns to it constantly, and plays with it, and seems charmed by it. 

Red, however, is not the only color that Hawthorne ties with a symbolic significance. Hawthorne juxtaposes red with another color-white. When Hester begins her sewing business soon after her release from jail, Hawthorne suggestively writes, "But it is not recorded that, in a

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