Essay, Research Paper: Scarlet Letter Symbols

Literature: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the letter "A" changes
it's 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 . .
." (84) 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 her 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." (156) At this point, a lot of
the townspeople realized what a high quality 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!" (157) 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. It is not as if she could not live without it and 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." (244) 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 that most people
go through in a lifetime.
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