The Scarlet Letter

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade August 2001

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In his novel The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses many forms of symbolism to convey points to the reader. One of the more obvious examples of symbolism is the scarlet ?A.? The letter has various meanings throughout the book. While at first it?s negative, it later becomes positive. Without the Symbolism of the letter, this novel would not have the same dramatic effect.

Hester has to wear the letter A as punishment for committing adultery. The townspeople often talk about Hester amongst themselves in the marketplace. ?This woman has brought us shame? (99). The letter is a gold-embroidered A over Hester?s heart. This is ironic because something that is meant to be bad looks good. It is a sign of adultery and penance. It brings about Hester?s suffering, loneliness, and guilt. This is just one of the many interpretations of the letter that occur during the novel.

Later in the book, the letter appears as a giant red A in the sky.

In this occurrence, the meaning of the symbol depends on the interpreter. The community saw it as a sign that the dying Governor Winthrop has become an angel. Dimmesdale, however, sees it as a sign of his own secret sin. The ?A? also appears imprinted on Dimmesdale?s chest. Its origin is controversial. Some think the emblem is a hideous torture the minister inflicted on himself, others think it is the result of Chillingworth?s drugs, and others believe it was remorse gnawing its way out of Dimmesdale?s conscience. These and other occurrences take the meaning of the letter far beyond an abbreviation of ?adultery.? As the book progresses the people of the community become increasingly forgiving of Hester. She eventually becomes a figure of compassion in the community. Hester becomes known for her charitable deeds. She frequently visits the homes of the poor and sick. At this point the ?A? is seen to represent ?Able.? This transformation gives Hester strength and rejuvenation. The meaning of the letter at the end of the book is the complete opposite of its meaning at the beginning of the book.

The letter ?A? is one of many symbols used in Hawthorne?s The Scarlet Letter. Although the fact that it is a symbol is obvious, its meaning is complex. Just one letter represents adultery, punishment, sin, will, strength, love, and divinity. This symbolism is part of what makes The Scarlet Letter a very effective piece of literature.