Scarlet Letter, Dynamic Meaning of the Scarlet Letter

Topics: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne Pages: 2 (617 words) Published: November 29, 2011
The Symbolic meaning of the letter “A”
In Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter, the meaning of the letter "A" stands for “adulterer”, but the symbolic meaning of the “A” changes throughout the book.  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. In the puritan village Hester resides in, a person that commits adultery is to be condemned to death, and it is one of the worst crimes that can be committed. Hester escapes death because her accusers do not know if her husband is still alive. As the story progresses, the “A” slowly transforms into a symbol of Hester’s strength and ability.  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 for adulterers to wear in shame. "Here, she said to herself, had been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment . . ." (51) 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, her daughter Pearl. 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.” (78) At this point, many of the townspeople realized what an angel-like character that 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...
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