Throughout the novel The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses several key symbols to represent the major themes in the book. The most obvious and renowned, as it is in the title, is the scarlet letter Hester wears upon her breast. Three other significant symbols are the scaffold, the sun, and the forest.
The most important and influential symbol in the entire book is the infamous scarlet letter, hence the title, The Scarlet Letter. Hester walks through the prison doors into the world wearing the 'A', and everyone is in awe that she fabricated it with such intricacy and care. During the first few years of Hester's punishment, the letter was a daily reminder of shame and embarrassment. Hawthorne describes the progression of the 'A' as a “...dreadful agony in feeling a human eye upon the token; the spot never grew callous; it seemed, on the contrary, to grow more sensitive with daily torture” (59). As the story unfolds, though, this letter comes to mean other things to Hester and for the people of the town. Rather than bringing torture and remorse to Hester, to some people it transforms into a symbol resembling her ability and strength. “They said that it meant able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength...The scarlet letter had not done its office” (111). The scarlet letter was meant as a punishment for Hester, and yet here it is obvious that it hasn't simply punished her. Although the scarlet letter brings some form of humiliation, it has not fulfilled its purpose. “Thus, we seem to see that, as regarded Hester Prynne, the whole seven years of outlaw and ignominy had been little other than a preparation for this very hour” (137). When Hester decides to skip town and run away to Europe with Dimmesdale, it becomes obvious that she hasn't learned anything from wearing the letter, because, if she had, she would have known better than to leave town with a man who wasn't her husband. Throughout the book there are various meaning to the scarlet...
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