The Scarlet Letter Quotes

     "I happened to place it on my breast. It seemed to me-the reader may smile, but must not doubt my word-it seemed to me, then, that I experienced a sensation not altogether physical, yet almost so, as of burning heat, and as if the letter were not of red cloth, but red-hot iron. I shuddered, and involuntarily let it fall upon the floor." (The custom-house introductory to "The scarlet letter")

     Although many years have passed since the person who carried the mark died, the narrator still feels its power, denoting how it felt for Hester and Mr. Dimmesdale to have it on their chests.

     "It may serve (the rose), let us hope, to symbolise some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow." (Chapter 1)

     The rose bush symbolizes natural kindness and forgiveness, unlike the prison next to it, which is a symbol of darkness and Puritan justice. Standing side by side, the rose bush and the prison warns readers that they will find many aspects of human nature in the following story - justice and mercy, beauty and ugliness, sin and forgiveness, honesty and hypocrisy- whereas rose represents positive side and prison the negative one.

     "On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore, and which was of a splendour in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony." (Chapter 2)

     The first description of the scarlet letter in the novel shows that the letter is made with so much care and attention to detail, as if it does not represent a punishment, but a medal of honor. Hester is aware of her sin and by making the letter herself, she shows that she is the owner of with her sin, as well as life. All of her artistry and strength is represented in this letter, which changes its meaning from "adulteress" to "able" as the years go by.

     "[...] the child finally announced that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison-door." (Chapter 8)

     This is Pearl's answer to the question of the officials on who made her. It is also highly symbolical, as it brings the essence of Pearl's character. By claiming that she was not born, Pearl reveals not just her childish imagination, but the unearthly side that intrigues other people. Representing herself as a rose bush, readers learn that, although represented as a weird and devilish child, Pearl is actually on the side of good.

     "Hester Prynne looked at the man of skill, and even then, with her fate hanging in the balance, was startled to perceive what a change had come over his features-how much uglier they were, how his dark complexion seemed to have grown duskier, and his figure more misshapen-since the days when she had familiarly known him." (Chapter 8)

     This is the revelation of Hester's true connection with Roger Chillingworth. Besides, it shows that emotions are written on one's face. Now when Roger is full of hatred, there is an obvious change in his face, he is ugly. Throughout the novel, readers will find many other examples of emotions and character written on a face.

     "'The little baggage hath witchcraft in her, I profess,' said he to Mr. Dimmesdale. 'She needs no old woman's broomstick to fly withal!'

     'A strange child!' remarked old Roger Chillingworth. 'It is easy to see the mother's part in her." (Chapter 8)

     This is how people perceive both Hester and Pearl. Pearl is considered devilish not only for being a product of the sin, but for her unusual character as well. Unable to explain her extraordinary nature, people suspect her to be a witch. Besides, who could give a birth to a witchy child but a mother witch? That is why people label both Pearl and Hester as witches.

     "And there stood the minister, with his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne, with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; and little Pearl, herself a symbol, and the connecting link between those two. They stood in the noon of that strange and solemn splendour, as if it were the light that is to reveal all secrets, and the daybreak that shall unite all who belong to one another." (Chapter 12)

     Succumbing to inner pressure, the clergyman wants to reveal his secret to the world. However, it is pitch black outside and no one can see them. While standing on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl, they close the circle, causing the mysterious light to appear in the sky. Since this novel belongs to the Gothic novel, it is not unusual for nature to speak in the name of characters. The nature is God, the God is truth and justice, therefore, the light in the sky may represent the God's sign to reveal their secret, since their act of love is not a sin.

     "Indeed, the same dark question often rose into her mind with reference to the whole race of womanhood. Was existence worth accepting even to the happiest among them?[...] As a first step, the whole system of society is to be torn down and built up anew. Then the very nature of the opposite sex, or its long hereditary habit, which has become like nature, is to be essentially modified before woman can be allowed to assume what seems a fair and suitable position. Finally, all other difficulties being obviated, woman cannot take advantage of these preliminary reforms until she herself shall have undergone a still mightier change, in which, perhaps, the ethereal essence, wherein she has her truest life, will be found to have evaporated. A woman never overcomes these problems by any exercise of thought." (Chapter 13)

     Hester's thoughts are actually the author's criticism to a society as whole, drawing attention to the question of femininity, where women are treated so unfairly, generation after generation, that the whole social system should collapse and start all over again in order to make a better society.

     "'Once in my life I met the Black Man!' said her mother. This scarlet letter is his mark!'" (Chapter 16)

     While in the wood, Pearl asks her mother if she has met the Black Man, and Hester replies with the sentence above. The Black Man is actually Satan, the devil who brings evil and temptation, and by claiming that she has met the Black Man, Hester admits that she had succumbed to passion and committed a sin (with Mr. Dimmesdale), whereas the mark she mentions is the scarlet letter on her chest.

     "Such was the sympathy of Nature-that wild, heathen Nature of the forest, never subjugated by human law, nor illumined by higher truth-with the bliss of these two spirits!" (Chapter 18)

     Another example of Gothic influence. The man is connected with the nature, therefore, the nature is sympathetic, depicting human feelings. It is pure and righteous, oblivious to human laws, therefore it is sacred.

     "On a field, sable, the letter A, gules." (Chapter 24)

     The epitaph carved into Hester and Mr. Dimmesdale's grave tomb. It represents their connection and the final justice. Puritan society condemned them to live their life in loneliness, however, the death has brought them together again, this time, for eternity.

Related Links:

The Scarlet Letter Summary
The custom-house introductory to 'The scarlet letter' Summary
The Scarlet Letter Quiz
The Scarlet Letter Chapters 22-24 Summary
The Scarlet Letter Chapters 1-3 Summary
The Scarlet Letter Chapters 4-6 Summary
The Scarlet Letter Important Characters
Literature Summaries
Nathaniel Hawthorne Facts

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