The Scarlet Letter

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade April 2001

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"On a field, sable, the letter A, gules (24.276)." In the novel, The Scarlet Letter written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne is subject to the most horrific public humiliation by being forced to wear the scarlet letter A upon her bosom and stand in front of the piercing eyes of the towns' people. This single letter stands for all the sin in her life and the lust she bore with a man not of her husbandry. Hawthorne uses the town, the outskirts, and the forest to symbolize the many different effects society places on a person.

Inside the boundaries of the town are found primarily the market place and the scaffold where Hester is subjected to the most horrendous public humiliation. The market place symbolizes the rigid rules of the Puritan society and their obsessions with sin and punishment. Standing upon the scaffold with young Pearl in Hester's arms and the burning hue of the scarlet letter upon her bosom is only the beginning of the punishment that she will subdue because "the pang of it will be always in her heart (2.51)."

Many of the town's people make clear their feelings on the subject of adultery by saying "At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne's forehead (2.51)." The scaffold holds the center of public torture but can also be seen as a place of atonement from guilt. The Reverend Dimmesdale finds a solace in the scaffold by taking his plight and releasing a portion of the guilt that is kept safe in his withering heart. However, he only finds strength enough to take his inward torture there in the middle of a shadowy night. This Puritan society places Hester under very harsh circumstances, which she boldly looks in...