The Symbolism of the Forest in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorn
“The path strangled onward into the mystery of the primaeval forest”(179). This sentence displays just one of the multiple personalities that the forest symbolizes in The Scarlet Letter written by Nathaniel Hawthorn. As seen in the epic story Wizard of OZ, the forest represents a place of evil and delight, but in the Scarlet Letter, the forest symbolizes much more than that. Each character brings out a different side of the forest, however, the forest also brings out a different side in each character. For some, the forest may be a place of sinister thoughts and wrongdoing, but for others, it is a place of happiness and freedom.
The first encounter with the forest we have symbolizes just some of the evil that lingers within the darkness of the forest. As Hester and Pearl are leaving governor Bellingham’s estate they are confronted by mistress Hibbins who explains that the witches are meeting in the forest, and she then invites Hester to become more deeply involved with her evil ways. “Wilt thou go with us tonight”(113) asked mistress Hibbins, yet Hester refused to sign her name in the black man’s book on that night. She explains that the only reason she does not sign is because Pearl is still in her life. At this time the forest itself is an open door to another world, a wicked world that would take her away from her present situation, but that is not the only door that the forest holds.
The forest is an open door to love and freedom for both Hester and Dimmesdale. It is a place where the letter on their bodies can no longer affect them if they choose. A world ruled by nature and governed by natural law as opposed to the artificial strict community with its man-made puritan laws. Its as if the forest represents a key to the shackles the Hester and Dimmesdale have been forced to wear, all that they have to do is unlock it. Although if they choose not to unlock them, they begin to dwell on the things that they have done to deserve the shackles. In this, the forest represents a thing of truth, whether it be good or bad.
In pearls eyes, the forest has a totally different concept. To Pearl, the forest is like a best friend. It treats her as if she were one of its own. The animals do not runaway at her every move, instead, they come to her with open arms. The light is chasing her no matter where she goes. She can run and play freely to her innocent heart’s content. She can do that because her heart is innocent and the forest recognizes that.
When reading this book you can look deeper into the forest and find more powerful symbols inside. The sunlight is one of the most obvious of them all. While Pearl plays in the forest the sunlight seems to find her no matter where she is standing. At the same time, it will not cast a single glimmer of light onto Hester until she removes her scarlet letter. Then at that point, the sun breaks through the dense trees and gazes upon her. The light is a symbol of purity and truth. It does not shine on Hester when she has the letter because the letter itself is not pure, even though everything underneath the letter has become pure through the years.
The Brooke that runs through the forest is also full of symbolism. At one point in the story, the Brooke represents a wall. “Then strange child, why does thou not come to me?”(205) asks Hester. She explains that she will not cross the Brooke because she Hester is not wearing her letter. To Dimmesdale, the Brooke then becomes a boundary between two worlds, a world of peace and freedom and a world of lies and guilt. Brooke is also known to symbolize one more thing throughout the entire story. It is often suggestive that the Brooke often represents pearl. One reason is because Brooke has an unknown source, Pearl also has an unknown source, meaning that most people don’t know where Brooke or Pearl came from. One more similarity between the two is that the Brooke is woven trough a dark and often evil forest, yet the water does not stop travelling. Pearl is in the exact same situation. Throughout her whole life, she has been unwillingly woven into the evil and sorrow her mother deals with. So just as the Brooke, she keeps ongoing. As you have seen there is a fountain of symbolism in the Scarlet Letter. The forest is one of the most symbolized objects in the entire story. It is one thing that can bring joy, sorrow, freedom, and evil to your life, but most of all the forest brings you the truth. Once you walk into the forest lies no longer exist. This is shown in every example given, that the truth comes out in the forest no matter what. Maybe that is why these characters go there because it is the only place truth exists.