The Scarlet Letter, written in the 1800's by Anti-Transcendentalist Nathaniel Hawthorne, tells the story of Hester Prynne. Young Hester lived in New England, about the same time witch trials were still conducted, and she is found guilty of carrying a baby whose father she refuses to confess. The punishment for this crime is from then until the rest of her life, Hester had to bear a stitched "A" on her breast. This "A" carries the namesake of the book, The Scarlet Letter. Although thought to be an embarrassment and form of torture for Hester, this scarlet letter seems to become a sense of pride for Prynne. This scarlet letter grows to become a part of Hester an identification to her child Pearl. The scarlet letter is a constant recurring symbol in Hawthorne's novel, but it doesn't satisfy only one purpose. As many symbols tend to do, the scarlet letter serves numerous functions, which enhance the story.
The first and most obvious symbol would be the actual "A" that was stitched on Hester's chest. In this example, the scarlet letter was a symbol for the entire world to see and ridicule Prynne for her "wrong-doing" This use of public humiliation for Hester was thought to be necessary to punish and teach Prynne a lesson. This puts much focus on the way people harass and torture others simply because they feel other people have done things morally wrong and deserve punishment. While the "wrong-doers" are being punished, the punishers in turn commit wrongs. Here many questions arise. Was it wrong for Hester to keep her child's father a secret from the public? Was is wrong for her to have to live her life as a walking, breathing example of what that Boston community thought was bad? Another usage of symbol in this book was what the scarlet letter becomes for Hester. This punishment which was branded into her soul for eternity starts to shift gears as the novel progresses. The sentence for her crime starts to become more a part of her than she would ever have imagined. Although the origin of the "A" to the public was, is, and always will be for her crime of adultery, which was at that time considered illegal and immoral, but it also gives her public recognition. The recognition was of course bad at first, but it was still a way that turned all heads, and eyes were on Hester. Later in the book she becomes a seamstress for the nobles and royalty after the public had admired the careful and marvelous stitching of the scarlet letter. There wasn't one soul who didn't know of Hester Prynne, and after many years she was known for her hardiness with a needle. Not only was the scarlet letter a way the public recognized Hester, but her own child Pearl grew up looking and admiring the "A". She didn't know her mother without it. There is a place in the book where Hester removes the scarlet letter and Pearl is outraged. She seems to be unaware of her mother's existence without this symbol, which began as a punishment and seems to become more of a symbol of pride in all that Hester as gone through and achieved.
Hawthorne's repetition of the usage of symbol in this novel is proven to be extremely effective. The scarlet letter is originally something the reader is unable to imagine having to bear and grows into a symbol of pride and identification.