The Alterations of the Scarlet Letter
Society determines what kind of person you are based upon your behavior and actions and they can deem you a sinner or an angel. Within Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the perceptions of the scarlet “A” are constantly changing within the story. In the novel the “A” is the signifier and the signified is represented by all the different perspectives from the Puritans. It can be argued that the “A” changes because Hester’s actions determine the way that Puritan society will perceive it, whether it be sin, agony, angel, able, or life.
At the start of the novel, the “A” was viewed as a symbol of her sin and her feeling of agony. For instance, during the time when Hester was led out of the prison one of the many women crowded around the jail said, “But she, - the naughty baggage, - little will she care about what they put upon the bodice of her gown” (45). This showed that the women of the town perceived Hester as a sinner and as a bad person. Even though she was truly a kind person at heart, the women chose to overlook that aspect. As Hester was being led out to the scaffold the narrator revealed that, “Hester Prynne had always had this dreadful agony in feeling a human eye upon the token; the spot never grew callous; it seemed contrary, to grow more sensitive with daily torture” (72). According to Hawthorne she felt a horrendous amount of agony because people were glaring at her and judging her based on the sin she committed and the “A” on her bosom. With all that is said and done the “A” in the start of the novel was a symbol of agony and sin.
There was no direct definition of the “A” because everyone perceived it in different ways. For Example, when Reverend Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl were all up on the scaffold, Dimmesdale claimed that the “A” “burning duskily through a veil of cloud; but with no such shape as his guilty imagination gave it; or, at least, with so little definiteness, that another’s guilt...
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