Theme Enhancement through the Use of Motif in The Scarlet Letter

Essay by rizzo788High School, 10th gradeA+, January 2004

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In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne used many profound and important motifs. Some examples of this device that is portrayed in the novel are the letter 'A', which is the best example because it changes its meaning throughout the story. In the beginning, it is viewed as a symbol of sin, and throughout the novel changes its meaning.

The letter is a label of punishment and sin in the commencement of the novel. It is a literal symbol of the sin of adultery. Wearing the label on her chest, she is an outcast from society. It allows the entire town to know her sin of bearing a child out of wedlock. She wears this symbol to burden her with punishment throughout her life. "Thus she will be a living sermon against sin, until the ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone" (59). Society places all blame on Hester, and because of this one letter her life has completely changed.

The letter's meaning in Puritan society banishes her from her normal life.

The middle of the novel is a transition period where the letter 'A' is viewed differently from the beginning of the story. "Nevertheless... this badge hath taught me--it daily teaches me--its teaching me at this moment..." (107). Hester had learned to deal with the letter and grew stronger from it. They now see her as a person who is strong, yet bears a symbol which differs herself. It taught her to withstand the pressures of society. She no longer is forced to wear the letter, but chooses to keep bearing it anyway because it is part of who she is.

The letter also portrays the guilt of Dimmesdale, the father of Hester's child. "Mr. Dimmesdale was overcome with a great order of mind, as if...