The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is about a young woman in 17th-century America who has sexual relations outside of marriage. For this sin that Hester has committed, she is sentenced to wear an "A" on her clothing. In the beginning, the "A" means "Adulteress", but it later comes to mean "Able".
Throughout the book other meanings of the letter "A" are given, but the original is "Adulteress". Adulteress means voluntary sexual intercourse between a married woman and someone other than her husband. The letter "A" has a negative effect on her both physically and emotionally. One negative effect of the Scarlet letter is that Hester gets emotionally depressed and contemplates suicide. She feels this way because the entire town symbolizes her as the sin of the town. The negative effect on her physically is that instead of letting her beautiful hair show she hides it behind a cap.
Hester's personality goes from being charming and passionate to severity and drabness due to a negative effect of the "A". Hester's sin during this time in history is not common or accepted by society. She is punished and is made an example for all people to see. Her punishment is having to wear "Ã¢ÂÂ¦that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself"(51).
The red and the gold letter is intended to be a symbol of shame, but it becomes a symbol of Hester's defiant identity. The Judge ordered Hester to wear the "A" as shame, but she wears it as a term of defiance. Hester seems to be proud of the letter instead of being ashamed of it "Ã¢ÂÂ¦ in fine red cloth surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold-thread, appeared the letter 'A'" (50). People believe she is not sorry for breaking the law. Instead of hiding the "A", Hester wears it with courage. The Scarlet color stands out against the drab clothes of the townspeople. The red symbolizes sin and adultery, but Hester uses the gold to make it beautiful.
Many years pass and after a long time Hester's public image is transformed. Hester has done so much charity and community service that the town implies the "A" to stand for able to do a good deed. The "A" now implies "AbleÃ¢ÂÂ¦ so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength"(148). She helps the poor and sick in any way they need. She enjoys none of the pleasures of society, working only to support herself and her daughter, and spending the rest of the time helping anyone who needs it. The scarlet letter in time becomes "a token, not of that one sin, but of her many good deeds since"(149).
Throughout the Scarlet Letter many different meanings of the "A" are given both negative and positive. The "A" that is given to Hester represents her sin of adultery and she is supposed to wear it as a symbol of guilt and sin. Hester spends the rest of her life living an exemplary life taking care of people and helping in the community. By the end of the book Hester is the symbol of authority, respect, caring and ability who is admired by the entire community. The "A" which was first given to Hester to wear as a symbol of guilt and shame has now been transformed into meaning something great and wonderful. The letter that Hester has always worn which first stood for Adulteress, now stands for "Able".