In chapter 12 of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas Foster observes that symbols are placed very commonly throughout works of literature, but the tricky part is deciding how to interpret them. In both The Scarlet Letter and The Age of Innocence, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edith Wharton use different symbols in order to convey a basic theme throughout each of the books. In The Scarlet Letter, the main symbol that is used to describe Hester Prynne is the scarlet letter “A.” This letter is a very important part of the story because it not only isolates Hester from the rest of the Puritan society, but it also can have many different interpretations as it is looked at in different ways. One of these interpretations is that the “A” can stand for adultery, due to the fact that Hester was with Arthur while she was still married to Chillingworth. On the other hand, the letter “A” can also be interpreted as a hint to the fact that she is wearing the scarlet letter because of Arthur, which begins with the letter A. In this case, the same symbol can be used to interpret many different situations, but in The Age of Innocence, Wharton writes a little bit differently, although she is still using symbolism. Wharton uses flowers to show Newland Archer’s relationship with both May and Ellen, but she uses different colors/types of flowers to mean different things. For example, Newland sends Ellen yellow flowers, a color that is not only bright and vibrant, indicating that their love for each other is great. Nevertheless, it also is a color known to signify jealously. But, Newland sends May white flowers, a color that is known for being pure and innocent; therefore, Newland believes that May is a very good and innocent woman. This is a very effective writing style for Wharton because it tells the reader something about Newland’s thoughts about both women without being too straightforward. Therefore, both Hawthorne and Wharton use symbolism in order to enhance their writing, and it is incredible to think about all the different symbols that authors have used in their stories to create deeper meanings.
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