Essay, Research Paper: Scarlet Letter By Hawthorne

Literature: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the letter "A" changes
its meaning many different times. This change is significant. It shows growth in
the characters, and the community in which they live. The letter "A"
begins as a symbol of sin. It then becomes a symbol of her ability to do and
help things, and finally it becomes a symbol of her respect for herself. The
letter "A," worn on Hester's bodice, is a symbol of her adultery
against Roger Chillingworth. This letter is meant to be worn in shame, and to
make Hester feel unwanted. "Here, she said to herself, had been the scene
of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment . . ."
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, Pearl, out of it. She is a very strong
woman to be able to hold up so well, against what she must face. Many would have
fled Boston, and sought a place where no one knew of her great sin. Hester chose
to stay though, which showed a lot of strength and integrity. Any woman with
enough nerve to hold up against a town which despised her very existence, and to
stay in a place where her daughter is referred to as a "devil child,"
either has some sort of psychological problem, or is a very tough woman. 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." At this point, many the townspeople realized what a godly
character 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
helpful to the sick, so comforting to the afflicted!" The townspeople soon
began to believe that the badge served to ward off evil, and Hester grew to be
quite loved amongst the people of the town. Hester overcame the shame of her sin
through the purity and goodness of her soul. Unselfishly offering her time and
love to those who needed her the most proved that she was not worthy of the fate
which had been dealt to her. The final face of the letter "A" was a
symbol of Hester's respect for herself, and for her life. It just changed to a
way of life for Hester. After returning to England for years, and helping Pearl
to gain a better life, Hester returned to don the badge which she now felt was a
part of her. She could have lived a better life without it, begin a new life in
England, but it was easier for her to return to America. The Puritan settlement
was her home. It was where the most important events in her life had occurred,
and she felt best being there. "But there was a more real life for Hester
Prynne here in New England than in the unknown region where Pearl had found a
home. Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her
penitence." Hester was in no way legally or religiously bound to wear the
badge. She did though. She had found her home in New England, and that is where
she intended to stay. The three changes in the scarlet letter were significant,
and they showed her sin, her ability, and her life. Hester was a strong,
admirable woman who went through more emotional torture than most people go
through in a lifetime.
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