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The Scarlet Letter

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Julia Garrigós

on 28 October 2013

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Transcript of The Scarlet Letter

Symbol and Interpretation in Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter
by Dr. Stephanie Carrez

"Mirror Imagery in The Scarlet Letter"
by Michael L Lasser

“Pearl’s Golden Chain in The Scarlet Letter” by Daniel Manheim
“One of these seafaring men-the shipmaster, indeed, who had spoken to Hester Prynne- was so smitten with Pearl’s aspect, that he attempted to lay hands upon her, with purpose to snatch a kiss. Finding it as impossible to touch her as to catch a humming-bird in the air, he took from his hat the gold chain that was twisted about it, and threw it to the child. Pearl immediately twined it around her neck and waist, with such happy skill, that, once seen there, it became a part of her, and it was difficult to imagine her without it.” (584)
Teresa Goddu – The Golden Chain as a symbol for slavery?

Manheim considers other approaches

He states that the “Chain” was a popular symbol in the 19th century

Content – Analyses of different theories
Content – Analyses of different theories
Where did “The Chain” as a symbol come up?

Overton Gwendolyn’s novel The Golden Chain (1903)
Joel Swartz’s song “The Broken Chain” (1885)
“Golden Chain” which appeared in Edward Rice’s and J Cheever Goodwin’s duet (1877)

Oasis giftbook contains a poem on “Friendship, Love, and Truth” (1852)
“[...]a golden chain[...]”

Independent Order of Odd fellows

The Portfolio: “I bring thee, love, a golden chain,[...]”

Content – Analyses of different theories
“The links that united her to the rest of humankind—links of flowers, or silk, or gold, or whatever the material—had all been broken. Here was the iron link of mutual crime, which neither he nor she could break. Like all other ties, it brought along with it its obligations.” (p. 538)

“The chain that bound her here was of iron links, and galling to her inmost soul, but could never be broken”. (p. 494)

“The minister felt for the child’s other hand, and took it. The moment he did so, there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life, other life than his own, pouring like a torrent into his heart, and hurrying through all his veins, as if the mother and the child were communicating their vital warmth to his half-torpid system. The three formed an electric chain.” (p. 534)

The Golden Chain of Love
Does “The Golden Chain of Love” free Pearl from Evil power?

Manheim suggests that The Golden Chain functions as a connection between Earth and Heaven. Thus, Pearl might be freed from Evil power by receiving the Chain.

• The symbols Hawthorne uses "begin as facts of nature with meaning of their own to which the author adds additional meaning." E.g.: Pearl.

• In general, the mirror is a method used to reveal "the truth of human heart".

1. The mirror for Hawthorne. "Once this freakish, elfish cast came into the child's eyes, while Hester was looking at her own image in them... and, suddenly, - for women in solitude, and with troubled hearts, are pestered with unaccountable delusions, - she fancied that she beheld... another face, in the small black mirror of Pearl's eye. It was a face, fiend-like, full os smiling malice... as if an evil spirit possessed the child, and had just been peeped forth in mockery" (p. 503).
2. Reflections:

• "But, in the education of her child, the mother's enthusiasm of thought had something to wreak itself upon. Providence, in the person of this little girl, has assigned to Hester's charge the germ and blossom of womanhood, to be cherished and developed amid a host of difficulties" (p. 541).

• Pearl as a symbol: "Pearl's errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled" (p. 589).

3. "The polished mirror of the breast plate" (p. 508).

4. The eye, the mirror of the heart/ human soul. "It was one of those moments in which a man's moral aspect is faithfully revealed to his mjnd's eye" (p. 544).

5. Dimmesdale uses the mirror to torture himself: "Hester Prynne, leading along little Pearl, in her scarlet garb, and pointing her forefinger, first at the scarlet letter on her bossom, and then at the clergyman's own breast" (p. 530).
6. Hawthorne uses a mirror to reflect the image of the brook of life: "seemed to communicate somewhat of its own shadowy and intangible quality to the child herself. It was strange, the way in which Pearl stood... Hester felt herself, in some indistinct and tantalizing manner, estranged from Pearl" (p. 564)
- Definition of symbol and allegory (OED)

Allegory: a story, poem, or picture which can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one

Symbol: 2 a thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract

- Hawthorne’s romantic view of the symbol

- The symbol against religion

- Hawthorne’s ambiguity towards the symbol

- Usefulness of the literal and non-literal meaning of the symbol.

- Hawthorne’s point of view about his own symbol.


They averred, that the symbol was not mere scarlet cloth, tinged in an earthly dye-pot, but was red-hot with infernal fire, and could be seen glowing all alight, whenever Hester Prynne walked abroad in the night-time. And we must needs say, it seared Hester's bosom so deeply, that perhaps there was more truth in the rumor than our modern incredulity may be inclined to admit. (79)

- Connection between symbolism and Bible’s interpretation.


All that they lacked was the gift that descended upon the chosen disciples, at Pentecost, in tongues of flame; symbolizing, it would seem, not the power of speech in foreign and unknown languages, but that of addressing the whole human brotherhood in the heart's native language. (124)

- The interpretation of the symbol is dangerous for the author


- The letter in Hester and Dimmesdale

- Skepticism and importance of symbol’s interpretation

- Conclusion

- 'The Scarlet Letter' as an allegory and the explanation of why the author refuses this view.

- The novel should be read from symbolism.
- Major characteristic of the symbol: enigmatic nature, reason to interpret and to find its meaning.

- Hawthorne must be studied and read from the interpretation of signs.

- 'The Custom- House' as provided guide or instructions to read the story and to understand the symbols properly.

- The scarlet letter as a romantic symbol implies two dimensions: feeling and meaning.

- Quotation from 'The Custom-House'

Certainly, there was some deep meaning in it, most worthy of interpretation, and which, as it were, streamed forth from the mystic symbol, subtly communicating itself to my sensibilities, but evading the analysis of my mind. (32)

- The dimension of sensitivity (feeling) is related with the romantic symbol, but what about the meaning, the intellectual? It does not follow.

- Negotiation between reader and Hawthorne about the symbol interpretation through the different impressions the symbol causes on different characters.

After many days, when time sufficed for the people to arrange their thoughts in reference to the foregoing scene, there was more than one account of what had been witnessed on the scaffold. [...] (223)

- The letter looks as a gap that needs to be filled by each reader. That truth only exists between reader and sign.

- Variation upon the romantic theory: the comprehension of the symbol is direct and it differs among readers - viewers and their social position.

Hildegard Fössl
Alba Fernández
Marian Conca
Julia Garrigós
Carrez, Stephanie, North Shore Community College, 'Symbol and Interpretation in Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter', Hawthorne In Salem (2004) <http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/ScholarsForum/MMD2575.html> [Accessed 22 October 2013]

Lasser, Michael L, ‘Mirror Imagery in “The Scarlet Letter”’, The English Journal, Vol. 56, No. 2 (Feb., 1967), pp. 274 – 277, JSTOR, <http://www.jstor.org/stable/811696> [accessed 11 October 2013]

Manheim, Daniel, 'Pearl's Golden Chain in THE SCARLET LETTER', Explicator, 68.3 (2010), Literature Online, <http://lion.chadwyck.co.uk/searchFulltext.do?id=R04319777&divLevel=0&area=abell&forward=critref_ft> [accessed 21 October 2013]

Previous knowledge
Discussion questions
Do you agree with the author of the first article? Is Hawthorne really using symbols or is he rather using allegory?

For you what is the meaning of the “A letter” symbol in the story?

Do you think that the mirror is that important in the novel as a symbol? Is there any other symbol more relevant to the story?

Which of the previous mentioned theories about "The Golden Chain" do you agree with and why?
Full transcript