Three Meanings for "A" in the Scarlet Letter

Topics: The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne Pages: 3 (1248 words) Published: February 26, 2012
Change is an inevitable part of life; basically everything on Earth periodically develops into something new. Though not every change is drastic, it can still be noticed over time. Sometimes change is progressive, but other times it can be regressive. In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the translation of the “A” develops from” adulterer,” to “able,” and finally to “amends.” When we first meet Hester, her “A” means adulterer. The townspeople are very horrified with her actions and desire a harsher punishment bestowed upon her. One even goes as far as to insist, “This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die” (49). The townspeople are not content with the punishment she has received and believe that the magistrates should impose a harsher sentence. However, the “A” that is sewn on her bosom becomes a visible representation of her act of adultery and she is thereby reduced to the symbol of sin itself. Hawthorne declares, “Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast – at her, the child of honorable parents, at her, the mother of a babe, that would hereafter be a woman, at her who had once been innocent – as a figure, the body, the reality of sin” (76). This description indicates that she has become the embodiment of evil for the good to consider when they are tempted to commit evil. They should look at the woman who used to be pure--who has a child that will be a great woman one day, who has good parents--and realize that she has become a bad person because of her sin. Hester is placed under a magnifying glass for the entire town to judge her when she stands on the scaffold. They scrutinize her choices in life and look down upon her because of her illegitimate child. She is burned by their treatment and by the “A” that she cannot shed. Hawthorne describes her dilemma when he writes: Accordingly, the crowd was somber and grave. The unhappy culprit sustained herself as...
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