Goodness, Truth, Warmth and Light

April 27, 2009
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In Western society, there are vast arrays of definitions for various objects in our world. Besides the literal, denotative, meanings of a word, some words have a more thought provoking or connotative meaning. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is filled with marvelous examples of denotation and connotation. Perhaps the best example of a word that clearly expresses denotation and connotation in the book is sunshine. Sunshine can literally mean the bright light that comes from the fiery ball of mass in the heavens known as the sun, or it can symbolize goodness and truth.

Denotation for sunlight can be found by a reader within the first few pages of The Scarlet Letter. Denotation would stand for the light that comes from the sun. Whenever the outdoor conditions during the jail scene is described, the author states that “the bright morning sun, therefore shone on the broad shoulders and well-developed busts and on round ruddy cheeks” (Hawthorne 4). In this particular quote, scenery is being described, so this denotation would be appropriate. A second example of denotation in this novel, can be found a bit later on in the book when the author once again describes the sky when he states 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). Denotation is used because Hawthorne is describing the literal job of sunshine, which is it’s duty to illuminate the surface of the earth and provide warmth to the inhabitants of this wide expanse of land and water.

The use of connotation in this novel is found much more frequently than denotation, which described the sunlight in regards to outdoor conditions and other literal meanings. The figurative meaning for sunshine is goodness and truth. An example of connotation in the novel can be found in The Scarlet Letter, when Mr. Hawthorne gives a description of Hester and Pearl’s visit to the forest. This novel states that “[the sunlight] withdrew itself as they came nigh... ‘Mother,’ stated little Pearl, ‘the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom” (Hawthorne 138). This intriguing quote shows that because Hester is living in sin, the goodness of the sunshine is totally avoiding the woman. It will not touch her, because she does not deserve its warmth and comforting rays. Another example of connotation can be found a bit later in this intriguing novel. As Mr. Hawthorne describes an interesting scene between Hester and Pearl, he writes “...scarlet misery, glittering on the old spot! Hester next gathered up the heavy tresses of her hair, and withering spell in the sad letter, her beauty, the warmth and richness of her womanhood, departed, like fading sunshine; and a gray shadow seemed to fall across her.” (Hawthorne 166). In this description, one finds a detailed explanation of how the sunlight flooded down on Hester, when she threw aside the letter. After the woman rid herself of the object that caused her so much grief and tormented her daily, she had appeared to forgive herself. Goodness could now reign upon this woman. Whenever she reattached the letter to her blouse, the sun immediately withdrew its rays from this lady once again. The rays of goodness were repealed in order to let the burdens of sin oppress Ms. Prynne.

Denotation and connotation can constantly be found in modern society. Some books are

literally teeming with examples of these literary devices. For the purpose of review, one learned that denotation refers to a dictionary definition of a word, while connotation evokes a more emotional response. Throughout a detailed investigation of this acclaimed novel, one will have found that sunshine has a denotative meaning to describe it’s literal jobs to provide light and heat to all of the earth’s inhabitants and it’s connotative meaning for goodness and truth.



Work Cited
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Scarlet Letter.” The Scarlet Letter with Connections. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1-219.





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