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Utilized as the classic metaphor, light and dark represents good and evil. However, in his book, The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne\’s usage of light and dark as a metaphor is an aberration from the classic. Throughout the novel, Hawthorne uses sunlight and darkness in recurring events. He plays with his words carefully, adding underlying symbolism in order to make the unfolding of the plot more complex and intricate. Sunlight exemplifies passion or love, and also presents truth and confession. Darkness embodies amoral secrecy.

In chapter 2: \”The Market Place,\” Hester Prynne stood upon the scaffold in humiliation for her acts of fornication. The sunlight shines brightly down on the town. Having confessed to her adultery, Hester exposed the truth and brought it to light. The next scaffold scene took place in chapter 12: \”The Minister\’s Vigil.\” Within this scene, Reverend Dimmesdale, overcome with the guilt of his adulterous act, stood on the scaffold hidden by the dark of the night. The lack of sunlight in this scene is a symbol of the minister\’s concealed secret. While Hester was forced to stand in shame before a large crowd, the minister stood alone and therefore did not bear the pain of looks of ignominy. Nonetheless, when on the scaffold in chapter 23: \”The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter,\” Mr. Dimmesdale ultimately confessed his sin to the townspeople and revealed the letter \”A\” on his chest. In this scene, the sun was once again shining upon them for the truth had been unveiled. Throughout the plot, in times of confession and truth, the sun blazed brightly in the setting. In times of secrecy, the sun was either hidden or non-existent in the scene\’s setting.

Hawthorne also used the sunshine and darkness as symbols for passion and love. When Pearl asked her mother to gather for her some sunshine, Hester retorted that she had none to give and therefore must gather her own. Due to the fact that she was ostracized from society, Hester had no one to love nor anyone to grace her with their love. Moreover, the chapter in which Hester and Dimmesdale have their meeting in the amoral backdrop of the forest is titled \”A Flood of Sunshine.\” The actual \”flood of sunshine\” is the passion that Hester and the minister release freely since they are alone in the woods. Because Hester had not been loved since the day she stood before the town on the scaffold, the love that she and Reverend Dimmesdale rekindle released emotions that had been contained up until that point. The free-flowing passion could be compared that of a \”flood.\”

The sunshine and darkness signify the moral Puritanical values of honesty and communicate the ambiguous idea of love. Through the use of recurring events containing symbolism, Hawthorne enhances his writing by giving the plot of the novel a more intimate message than just a simple love story. Symbolism caused readers to see beyond just the words and come to an understanding of the feelings being conveyed by the author.


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