In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the natural world is changed and

shifted to reflect the changing personas of the characters and events of the story. In this
way, the novel utilizes the natural world to symbolize various facets of each character
and provide the reader with valuable insight into the nature of the interactions between
these characters. To this end, the novel emphasizes the alternation between night and
day and the striking contrast of the rose bush with it natural surroundings, as vehicles of
symbolic value that provide depth of meaning. In many ways, the natural world as it is
portrayed in this work plays an instrumental role in shaping the character’s behaviors,
decisions, and beliefs.
Throughout the novel, the shifts between lightness and darkness are key
symbolic elements and illustrate key themes within the events taking place in the story.
In Chapter 16, Pearl says, “Mother, the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and
hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom…It will not flee from me, for
I wear nothing on my bosom yet!” (180) The archetypal reference to sunshine and light
as a symbol of good, virtue, and purity is clear and the darkness in that scene reflects
Hester’s sins of adultery and by extension, her lack of virtue. Because Hester had slept
with another man while she was married, she is no longer pure and has been tainted by
sin, and therefore cannot be touched by sunlight. This representation of light as good
and dark as evil clearly extends itself to the other characters in the novel . Roger
Chillingworth is consistently associated with dark surroundings, which ties back to the
fact that this is a character who is essentially consumed by the desire for revenge . The

The rose bush also symbolizes love and in some ways. in this month of June.darkness or “gray expanse” that seems to surround Chillingworth reflects his turn to sinful desires such as retribution. Perhaps the most compelling use of the natural world in this novel lies in the way it manifests itself within the actions and beliefs of the characters in addition to mirroring them through shifts in light and dark. transforms the prison into a place of hope instead of despair. Hawthorne places the natural world in contrast with the world of man and man-made creations. The rose bush adorning the prison described in the early part of the novel is also deeply symbolic of the way nature shapes man’s perception of his own condition. and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom. which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in. nature fills a number of roles within the context of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. The beauty of the nature is consistently contradicted with the less appealing appearances of the world of man and civilization. As shown. Hawthorne describes the rosebush as “covered. and in this way. Hawthorne also emphasizes the blatant contrast between the natural world and human society by portraying nature as kind and beautiful and the human world as dark and unkind. . in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him. with its delicate gems.” (95) The rose bush provides a striking contrast to its unsightly surroundings near the prison. This juxtaposition is essential in establishing the way Hawthorne utilizes the natural world to highlight and emphasize the flaws in human nature.