In Hawthorne: A Critical Study, Hyatt Waggoner explores the connections
between Hester and the natural landscape.
But a more frequent and impressive association is set up between Hester and
normal flowers. Even the badge of her shame, the token of her "guilty"
love, is thus associated with natural beauty. The scarlet letter is related
to the red rose from the very beginning. As Hester stands before her judges
in the opening scenes, the sun shines on just two spots of vivid color in
all that massed black, brown, and gray: on the rose and the letter, both red.
The embroidery with which she decorates the letter further emphasizes the
likeness, so that when Pearl throws flowers at her mother's badge and they
hit the mark, we share her sense that this is appropriate. Burrs and flowers
seem to have an affinity for Hester's letter. Hawthorne was too much of a
Protestant to share the Catholic attitude toward "natural law":
the imagery here suggests that moral law and nature's ways do not perfectly
coincide, or run parallel on different levels; they cross, perhaps at something
less than a right angle. At the point of their crossing the lovers' fate is
determined. No reversal of the implied moral judgment is suggested when nature
seems to rejoice at the reaffirmed love of the pair in the forest: "Such
was the sympathy of Nature—that wild, heathen Nature of the forest, never
subjugated by human law, nor illumined by higher truth—with the bliss of these
two spirits! Love, whether newly born, or aroused from a death-like slumber,
must always create a sunshine."
Hester's emblem, then, points to a love both good and bad. The ambiguity of
her gray robes and dark glistening hair, her black eyes and bright complexion,
is thus emphasized by the flower and weed imagery. As Chillingworth is associated
with weeds, Pearl with flowers, and Dimmesdale with no natural growing thing
at all, so Hester walks her ambiguous way between burdock and rose, neither
of which is alone sufficient to define her nature and her position (140-141).