The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter is a story written in the 17th century by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The setting of the story is a puritan community whose residents were religious reformers who settled in Massachusetts in 1630 led by John Winthrop. They were unforgiving and uncharitable and did not entertain ideas and lifestyles that were contrary to theirs. Religion was the backbone of the community, and the religious leaders were respected and served as the role models.  One of the behaviors that the community did not entertain was adultery as they applied punishment to prevent people from engaging in this illegal behavior. The book is rich in themes, and the author has used different literary elements to emphasize the story.

The themes in the story include religion, authority roles, community as well as morality. The consequences of sin are well laid out in the book, and those who go astray are punished public to serve as an example to others (Orathel, 2018). One of the characters who suffered the consequences of immorality is Hester Prynne. Her husband went away, and he was thought to have died. She decides to have an affair with another man who had born a child with him (Hawthorne, 1900). She is humiliated in public, and the pastor is the one who is conducting the interrogation. She is asked to disclose the name of the man who has sired the child, but she opts not to and suffers the consequences.

The punishment administered is wearing a scarlet that is flaming with letter A on the dress. The letter is placed on the breast part of the dress, and the letter stands for the adulterer. She has to withstand the humiliation of all community members and hold on the scorching sun for hours with her baby Pearl (Beth, 2018).  Authority roles is another theme in the book and are portrayed by characters such as Governor Bellingham and the leaders of the community. As much as they would want to be merciful to Hester they cannot tolerate her immoral behavior(Hawthorne, 1900).  She teaches her daughter about the bible and God, but the teachings have little impact on the child. She concludes that there is little that she can do to control the decisions of the child and decides to let her choose what she wants.

Literary elements are techniques used by writers to emphasize their story. One of the literary elements in the book is symbolism whereby symbols are used to convey a message to the readers. One of the symbols used by Hawthorne is Rose bush which symbolizes Hester who can be wild as well as beautiful (Claire, 2010). It also appears in the governor’ house where it symbolizes the nature of Pear who is vibrant. The second symbol is the scarlet letter A which signifies adultery and is used in humiliating those who have sinned (Hawthorne, 2017). This symbol, however, changes at the end of the story o mean good and innocence character of Hester. The author has also used the symbol of the forest to stand for love which is natural and in another case wilderness (Benson, 2018). Hester is left to the forest where she transforms into a better person. The author has also used characterization which refers to describing and developing characters. “The little Puritans, being the most intolerant brood that ever lived.” Additionally, the author has used allusion which is a literary element where the author refers to a person or an event indirectly.








Hawthorne, N. (1900). The scarlet letter (Vol. 6). Houghton, Mifflin.

Benson, E. (2018). Elements of Story or Fiction – character, setting, plot, a point of view, style, tone, theme. Retrieved from

Beth Miller, T. (2018). Literary Devices & Elements in The Scarlet Letter | Retrieved from

Hawthorne, N. (2017). Gothic Elements Present in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The… | Bartleby. Retrieved from

Orathel, C. (2018). The Scarlet Letter: Characters, Symbols & Themes – Video & Lesson Transcript | Retrieved from

Claire Wait. (2010) “What are the elements that unify the plot of The Scarlet Letter?” eNotes, 18 Aug. 2010, Accessed 8 Feb. 2019.


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