Who Are You?: an Analysis of Identities in the Scarlet Letter

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Jonathan Alessi
Period 4

Who Are You?: An analysis of identities in The Scarlet Letter

Identity, what is it? Is it a name? Is it defined by what we do, where we work or how hard we play? Is identity categorized by a moment from our past or is it defined by the present? Is identity of a person only one definite thing or is it dependent upon the observer? According to Nathaniel Hawthorne identity is definite, unchangeable, and can be defined by one single moment in a person’s life. To Hawthorne identity is more than just what your driver’s license says and what your social security number is, but is the thing you obsess over. This is why, in The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, characters’ lives effect their inescapable identities.

If identity is not just a name than who is Hester Prynne? Hester Prynne is defined in The Scarlet Letter by the letter she wears on her chest. When told of the magistrates’ intention to take off her letter Hester replies “It lies not in the power of the magistrates to take off this badge,” (144). The magistrates, Hawthorne would say, cannot take off the scarlet letter because the scarlet letter is not only cloth on Hester’s shirt but is actually Hester’s identity. Hester’s identity cannot simply be changed into something different by the disappearance of something on her chest. Not only that, but her identity literally cannot leave her, even for an instant. Even when she is able to leave the place of her punishment at the end of the book, she still must come back after Pearl is grown and replace the letter on her chest and “Never afterwards did it quit her bosom” (225). She has to have the letter. It is a deep part of her. It is sewn not only through her shirt but sewn directly to her soul. She must come back to it. Hester cannot leave the “A” it is a part of her it would be like leaving her arm behind.

Just as Hester cannot get rid of the scarlet letter, Roger has an identity that is inescapable also. Roger...
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