Personification in The Scarlet Letter

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In ''The Scarlet Letter,'' Nathaniel Hawthorne uses personification of natural objects to express the degree of isolation and loneliness that the characters feel as they are shunned by their community.


What was your favorite toy as you were growing up? Many children personify a favorite stuffed animal, action figure, or doll so that they have a constant, loyal companion. Personification is a figure of speech in which human qualities are attributed to something that is not human. There are various reasons why an author might use personification. One reason is to create a connection between the reader and the non-human object. Another is to paint a descriptive image that evokes feelings. Let's learn more about the use of personification in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The Rose Bush

At the beginning of the story, Hester Prynne has been sentenced to jail for the crime of adultery. While the jail is a dreary place to raise a baby, there is a rose bush near the entrance that offers the last bit of solace to those who are imprisoned there. 'But on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him.' In this example of personification, the bush is 'offering' kindness, which is not possible for a plant to do. But for Hester, it seems plausible because it is the only generosity that she senses from the town.

Rose bush


Although her birth occurred under difficult circumstances, Pearl proves to be a beautiful gift to Hester. 'She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and deep black eyes.' Although hair cannot literally 'throw' sunshine, this description of Pearl provides some insight into her personality, as she seems to have an innate ability to shake off the condemnation with which she is raised.


To Pearl, everything is part of a game. She believes that the letter her mother is condemned to wear, and which marks her adultery, is just part of growing up. In the meantime, she enjoys being a kid as she playfully says to her mother, '…the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. Now, see! There it is, playing, a good way off. Stand you here, and let me run and catch it.' Pearl views the sunshine as the companion of her childhood.

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