The Scarlet Letter

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There have been numerous accounts of words with two-sided definitions in The Scarlet Letter. The author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, uses different words to show the emotion and vision of a scene so the reader is able to paint a picture of his story. A prominent word of choice that the author used was sunshine. He uses sunshine on many different occasions, connecting descriptive meanings and the actual denotative meaning. In this book sunshine symbolizes warmth of the heart, but it actually means rays of light from the sun.

The denotation of sunshine conveys many different perspectives of the story to the audience. Sunshine is literally, rays of light from the sun causing life to flourish, producing warmth on the Earth. Throughout the story Hawthorne uses sunshine in the form of denotation to give imagery to a scenario. Specifically, in the scene where Hester Prynne and Mr. Dimmesdale devise a plan of escape and reveal their deep secrets, they notice that “overhead was a gay expanse of cloud, slightly stirred, however, by a breeze, so that a gleam of flickering sunshine might now and then be seen at its solitary play along the path” (Hawthorne 138). This expressive passage displays the details of the forest through words that utilized their direct meanings. As Hester and her daughter were in the forest, “Pearl set forth at a great pace, and, as Hester smiled to perceive, did actually catch the sunshine, and stood laughing in the midst of it, all brightened by its splendor, scintillating with the vivacity excited by rapid motion.” (Hawthorne 138). This quote portrays this form of sunshine when Pearl and Hester are entering the forest and Pearl is playing in the sunshine with joy, which is indicating that the actual rays of the sun are dancing around on the forest floor.

In light of the denotative description the author uses in the forest scene, Hawthorne also brings into play the connotative meaning of sunshine to give the reader more insight into his or her own imagination. Sunshine represents the warmth of the heart, happiness, a playful spirit, goodness (light versus dark), or even the renewal of life. To bring the story to life Hawthorne uses many different approaches to show the reader a deeper meaning to a word. For instance, when Hester and Dimmesdale conjure a plan to escape the torture of their sins and find freedom together in a place away from their current homes, which brings them hope for a renewal of their lives. Sunshine, representing the renewal of hope, is seen when “all at once, as with a sudden smile of heaven, forth burst the sunshine, pouring a very flood into the obscure forest, gladdening each green leaf, transmuting the yellow fallen ones to gold, and gleaming adown the gray trunks of the solemn trees” (Hawthorne 158). Sunshine shows the reader that the Hester and Dimmesdale’s decision to leave their tortured lives of condemnation was a hope for new life and happiness. The sunshine coincidently vanishes when Hester steps into the light, but basks in the glory of innocent little Pearl, “‘Mother,’ said little Pearl, ‘the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. Now see! There it is, playing, a good way off. Stand you here, and let me run and catch it. I am but a child. It will not flee from me; for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!’” (Hawthorne 138). Here, Pearl accuses her mother of making the happiness and righteousness disappear from their presence. This was just another reminder for Hester Prynne to make sure that she will never feel right or happy because of the dreadful sin she committed.

From representing the vanishing of good spirits, to the actual definition of the suns powerful rays; there are many aspects of the two meanings that are similar. The relation between the connotation and denotation of the word sunshine is that not only does it represent life, but it actually provides life. It also provides those warm, fuzzy emotions of happiness inside. Sunshine is a word that has deeper, double-sided meanings, which provides well-portrayed imagery.

Nathaniel Hawthorne uses denotation and connotation in particular settings in the story to get a certain point across. Hawthorne’s word usage in The Scarlet Letter illustrates to the readers, deeper meanings and representations of a scene. This also allows the reader to create a vivid picture in their minds. Seeing sunshine as more than just rays of light is important because when one looks into the symbolic meaning, they see it is where happiness, life, and goodness occur. It allows the reader to detect deeper meanings of imagery, whether sunshine is providing the Earth with life or filling a heart with love and joy.




Work Cited
Hawthorne Nathaniel. “The Scarlet Letter.” The Scarlet Letter with Connections.

Austin: Holt Rinehart, and Winston. 1-219





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