Symbolism and The Scarlet Letter


Symbolism is traditionally a sign or token of something. In the matter
of literature, the definition of the literary device, symbolism, is
more complicated. Symbols of literature are usually metaphysical. The
main symbol of The Scarlet Letter is the red "A" that Hester Prynne was
sentenced to wear on her chest. Nathaniel Hawthorne's intention was to
make the meaning of the crimson token worn on the bosom of Hester
Prynne is highly ambiguous. In this he was successful. Although the
"A" means "adulteress" to the people of Boston, to reader the "A" may
have other meanings such as "American" or "able". To the townspeople,
author, and reader clearly the original intention of the "A" was to
stand for "adulteress". When Hester Prynne became pregnant during the
absence of her husband she was accused and convicted of adultery. Her
sentence was to wear a scarlet letter "A" on her bosom to let everyone
know that she was an adulteress, forevermore. Because of her unique
sentence everyone knew that she was, in fact, an adulteress and people
treated her that way. Society condemned her for her sin, without
knowing anything else. Hester was forced to live alone on the
outskirts of the city. She was a seamstress, but got very little
business. When she used her skills to decorate the "A", things only
got worse. People felt that she was trying to show off the fact that
she was an adulteress, or that she was proud to be. Hester's daughter,
Pearl, was constantly ridiculed by other children for being an "evil",
"devil" child. Clearly it was the first intention of the symbol to
reve! al that Hester Prynne was an adulteress. Although the first
intention of the "A" was to mark Hester Prynne as an adulteress, it
also has other, more abstract meanings. The letter has a relation to
the word, "American". Hester Prynne's "A" reflects an "American"
meaning in various ways. For one, America is a melting pot of many
peoples and ideas, as was Hester's "A". She earned that "A" under
certain situations. She was in a loveless marriage. She had been
separated from her husband for 2 years. She thought he might be at the
bottom of the sea. She was in love with another man. She was
perceived and punished under a strict Puritan eye. Like the
development of America, the were many conditions that led to the
developed of Hester's "A". Another way that Hester Prynne's "A"
symbolizes America, is that they were both shaped by past actions. No
matter how Hester had changed, since her act of adultery, at any point
in her life, she was forever damned to be labeled as an adulteress with
the "A". The symbol of ! the scarlet letter shaped who Hester
became. America was shaped by everything that happened in her past.
All the various people and cultures, mistakes she made, and her
relationships with other countries. Along with meaning "adulteress" or
"American", Hester Prynne's letter "A" stood for "able". Hester Prynne
was a very able woman. She was too strong of a woman for Puritan
Boston right from the start. That was known from the very beginning of
the novel when she faced the people of Boston with her sentence and her
dignity. She always held her head high. She was able to accept her
punishment. She was able to take with pride all the torment the
townspeople could throw at her. Hester was also an able mother, nurse
and seamstress. Despite everyone's talk about Pearl, Hester never let
that interfere with her mothering Pearl. She was able to bring up a
strong daughter. Hester had a strong devotion to her work as a nurse.
She also went on with her work as a seamstress. Hester's most
important accomplishment was her ability to overcome her sentence. She
accepted her sin and accepted herself. She learned to love who she
was. By accepting herself other people began to foll! ow her example
and embrace who she was, not what she was labeled as. The main symbol
of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is the red letter "A" that
Hester Prynne wore on her chest. This is the most important symbol of
the story, and symbolism is a major literary device of the story. The
main character, Hester Prynne wore the letter throughout the story, and
the letter took every road that the story did. The letter became one
with Hester and Hester became the meaning of the scarlet letter.


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