The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Essay by mannytkoHigh School, 11th gradeA, November 2009

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Symbolism of the Scarlet Letter AIn Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the meaning of the letter “A” changes throughout the novel. This change is significant as it indicates the personal growth of the characters as well as the enlightenment of the townspeople. When the novel begins, the letter “A” is a symbol of sin. As the story progresses the “A” slowly is viewed as a symbol of Hester’s strength and ability (Hawthorne Julian). By the end of the novel, the letter “A” has undergone a complete metamorphosis and represents the respect that Hester has for herself.

The letter “A,” worn on Hester's bodice, is a symbol of her adultery against Roger Chillingworth. This letter is meant to be worn in shame, and to make Hester feel unwanted. “Here, she said to herself, had been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment .

. . (Nathaniel Hawthorne).”Hester is ashamed of her sin, but she chooses not to show it. She committed this sin in the heat of passion, and fully admits it because, though she is ashamed, she also received her greatest treasure, Pearl, (Nathaniel Hawthorne). She is a very strong woman to be able to holdup so well, against what she must face. Many would have fled Boston, and sought a place where no one knew of her great sin. Hester chose to stay though, which showed a lot of strength and integrity. Any woman with enough nerve to hold up against a town which despised her very existence and to stay in a place where her daughter is referred to as a “devil child” is a very tough woman (Nathaniel Hawthorne).

The second meaning that the letter “A” took was “able.” The townspeople who once condemned her now believed her scarlet “A” to stand for her ability to create beautiful needlework and for her unselfish assistance to the poor and sick. “The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her- so much power to do and power to sympathize- that many people refused to interpret the scarlet 'A' by its original signification (Nathaniel Hawthorne).”At this point, many the townspeople realized what a godly character Hester possessed. “Do you see that woman with the embroidered badge? It is our Hester- the town's own Hester- who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comforting to the afflicted (Nathaniel Hawthorne)!” The townspeople soon began to believe that the badge served to ward off evil, and Hester grew to be quite loved amongst the people of the town. Hester overcame the shame of her sin through the purity and goodness of her soul (Study World). Unselfishly offering hertime and love to those who needed her most proved that she was not worthy of the fate which had been dealt to her.

The final face of the letter “A” was a symbol of Hester's respect for herself, and for her life. It just changed to a way of life for Hester. After returning to England for years, and helping Pearl to gain a better life, Hester returned to don the badge which she now felt was a part of her. She could have lived a better life without it, begin a new life in England, but it was easier for her to return to America (Study World). The Puritan settlement was her home. It was where the most important events in her life had occurred, and she felt best being there.

“But there was a more real life for Hester Prynne here in New England than in the unknown region where Pearl had found a home. Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her penitence (Nathaniel Hawthorne).” Hester was in no way legally or religiously bound to wear the badge. She had found her home in New England, and that is where she intended to stay. The three changes in the scarlet letter were significant, and they showed her sin, her ability, and her life (Study World). Hester was shown as a strong, admirable woman who went through more emotional torture than most people go through in a lifetime.

Works CitedNathaniel Hawthorne. The Scarlet Letter. New York: First signet Classic Printing, 1999.

Study World. l%5CScarlet_Letter _3.htm.

Hawthorne,Julian.”The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.”