What Are Some Examples of Figurative Language From “The Scarlet Letter”?

Some of the most important quotations from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic romance novel, “The Scarlet Letter,” make use of figurative language, such as Pearl’s observation in Chapter 16 that the sunshine “runs away and hides itself” from her mother. She goes on to say that the sun does not flee from her, because she wears nothing on her breast yet. The implication is her belief that sin, represented by the scarlet letter, is inseparable from maturity.

Another example of Hawthorne’s use of figurative language appears later in Chapter 18. He describes the scarlet letter in metaphors related to travel or journeying. For example, Pearl’s mother, Hester Prynne, has “wandered … in a moral wilderness,” and the scarlet letter was her “passport” into the regions feared by other women. This is a further exploration of the theme of sin, with specific attention given to the alienating quality of it.

The scarlet letter itself, as a symbol of her sin, is a red “A” that stands for “adulterer.” Hawthorne almost grants it a stubbornness and life of its own in the novel, describing it in the final chapter as never departing from Hester’s bosom, and as a source and subject of sorrow, awe and reverence.