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Published: Tuesday 29th of October 2013
The Scarlet Letter is a book that has many symbols, but the author Nathaniel Hawthorne made one stand out, the Letter A. The meaning that most people associate it with is adultery, and in this case, it is about the sin Arthur Dimmesdale, and Hester Prynne committed. How it changes meaning in subsequent chapters as it appears as the letter A in Arthurs’ chest, the meteor and when a green, scarlet letter was created out of eelgrass by Pearl.
Even without reading the book, the Scarlet symbol letter A is known globally. People assume that the Scarlet A represents adultery, but for someone who has read the book, it has many more meanings than that. For Pearl and Hester, the Scarlet is a reminder and a burden as it reminds them that they are sinners. However, Hester does not let this affect her feelings towards her child, and she loves her genuinely.
For Dimmesdale, the scarlet letter reminds him of his guilt that he has carried for the past seven years. This guilt is because he did not stand by Hester’s side neither did he stand with the child and shared with them their burden at the scaffold. “That such a scandal came upon his congregation is something that the Reverend Master Dimmesdale takes to the heart grievously,” people say. It appears in chapter two (Hawthorne, page 43).
For Chillingworth, the scarlet letter reminds him of his revenge as his wife had cheated on him. Pearl, she grew up around it, and in her mind, the scarlet letter is something she sees on her mother regularly, and in chapter 19, she refuses to go to her because Hester did not have it. The Scarlet Letter is also in a way a personified version of Pearl, alluring, strange and beautiful. It is more pronounced when Hester “displayed her in a red velvet tunic, richly embroidered with fantasies with flourishing gold threads.” It was another form of the Scarlet Letter: The letter gifted with life! (Hawthorne, chapter 6, page 86).
At the start of the book, the Scarlet Letter was meant to represent shame, for Hester had committed an unforgivable sin. It was a sign to the people to know what she had done and who she was. In chapter two, we see that the people shunned her because of this and women in the marketplace are gossiping about her and her scarlet letter. Towards the middle of, the book, the meaning shifts and it now is an indicator of Hester in the minds of the townspeople. When outsiders were around, the townspeople would point towards Hester and say “The woman that you see with an embroidered badge is our Hester, she is comfortable with the afflicted and kind to the poor.”
In chapter 13 (Hawthorne, page 142), the cross on the nuns bosom is the effect that the Scarlet Letter has. The Scarlet letter takes on a much deeper meaning towards the end of the book. After seven years of pain and anguish, the feelings that Hester has towards the letter reveals itself. A Flood of Sunshine, which is chapter 18 of the book says, “The regions where other women were afraid to tread, the scarlet letter was Hester’s passport.” For her, she learned through solitude, shame, and despair, wild and stern teachers which transformed her into a strong woman (Hawthorne, page 175). In layman’s language, the hardships, pain, and struggles that she endured made her into a strong woman. Even those who are pure of heart are touched by sin at some point as Arthur Dimmesdale reveal shows, and this is the last meaning that the scarlet letter implies.
Throughout the book, the scarlet letter takes many forms. In one scenario, the scarlet letter appears as a gigantic red A in the sky on the night of Governor Winthrop’s death, and in another section, the scarlet letter is Pearl herself when she makes a giant green letter A out of eelgrass and some other meanings. At the end of chapter 12, which is The Ministers Vigil, an old Sexton says that the giant red letter A that appeared in the sky stood for an angel. It is because Governor Winthrop became an angel that night when he died, and there had to be a notification of it to the world thus the appearance of the letter in the sky. (Hawthorne, page 138).
However, Arthur Dimmesdale while talking to Hester and Pearl knew of this occurrence. It, therefore, implies that the letter A in the sky was not symbolic for the governor becoming an angel but was a sign meant for Arthur Dimmesdale. As indicated in this paper earlier on, Pearl was also a personified version of the scarlet letter, and people saw her not as a human but as an elf, a fairy, and a demon offspring. (Hawthorne, Chapter 8, page 93). At first, she was personified and only became human upon the death of her father. There is a scene in the book where a wild infant bore a part, her tears dropping on her father’s cheek as she had developed all her sympathies. It was seen as a pledge that she would from then onwards grow up as a woman never to do battle on earth but would instead grow up amongst humans with all the joy and sorrow that come with it. Pearl’s role as a messenger of anguish towards her mother also came to pass in the book. (Hawthorne, chapter 23, page 226). The scarlet letter changes from a symbol of sin into something innocent, pure and childlike in the scene where Pearl using eelgrass creates the green letter A.
For redeeming her sins, Hester was the first letter A as she took all her sufferings and sorrow, but in the end, she emerged as a strong woman. According to the author, Hester represents not only a woman seeking liberty but as a person who does not conform to the hypocrisy of the society. She symbolizes a spirituality against the stupidity of society.
The second A is Arthur Dimmesdale who is a coward compared to Hester. He cannot find the courage to accept the consequences of the illicit love he had and becomes a prisoner of his own religious beliefs. Throughout the book, he continually tries to proclaim his sin but falls short of doing so every time. He was battling his feelings since he loved Hester but considered this feeling as sinful. He died still suffering from his dilemma, and his character served to make Hester look stronger than him. The originator of the letter A is Chillingworth. He made Dimmesdale suffer for his sins as revenge or adultery and prevents him from redeeming himself. He transforms the love he has for Hester into hate, but this did not bring him any happiness. He is the villain in this story.
Pearl is the letter A that symbolizes life. She is the result of love but also an outcome of sin. She is an Angel and represents the author’s view of romance.