Symbols and Symbolism - The Letter A in The Scarlet Letter
Length: 621 words (1.8 double-spaced pages)
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Authors sometimes use symbols in their novels to represent
different objects, people or ideas. One example is the S on Superman's
uniform, which symbolizes him being supper. In "The Scarlet Letter"
Nathaniel Hawthorne creates the symbolism of the letter "A" to have
different meanings. As the novel unfolds, the meanings of the letter "A"
on Hester Prynne's bosom changes, from adultery to able to angel.
In the beginning of the novel, Hawthorne describes the letter "A"
that lies on Hester's bosom as a symbol of adultery. Hester is made to
wear the letter "A" once the town's people see, that she committed adultery
by bearing a child by some other soul than her husband Roger Chillingworth.
Since she has worn this letter, she now has a label on her that she is
sinful. She is brought out in public to show everyone what is embroidered
on her chest. The narrator shares, "When the young women- the mother of
this child-stood fully revealed before the crowd...On the breast of her
gown, in fine red cloth surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and
fantastic flourshes of gold thread..."(50-1). Many people there to see her
when she reveals the "A" on her chest. Most of the town people are
astonished and startled on her beauty still shone. Even though the big red
letter on her chest stood for adultery.
As the novel progressed the meaning as the "A"" made a change for
the better in Hester's life. In chapters before of the novel the letter
"A" on Hester's bosom had negative meaning, but this time Hawthorne turns
the meaning around in the story to mean able. Now that she has given many
hours of time and service to the sick, poor and troubled she began to gain
respect from some of the town's people who once looked down on her. This
time the author shares, "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 it's original signification. They said that it meant "
Able"...(158). Hester still held up her head and did not appear to be down.
She was trying to become herself again slowly. Once again the letter on
her chest changed from the meaning of adultery to something she could be
Once the novel nears the end Hawthorne again makes the letter "A"
"stand for an angel. Hester in the story about this time had more self-
esteem and she also looked upon herself as a good person after her sacred
love is revealed. So she looks at the "A" lying on her bosom with better
thoughts. "The angel and apostle of the coming must be a women, indeed,
but lofty, pure and beautiful, and wise, moreover, not through dusky grief,
but the ethereal medium of joy" (258). Hawthorn lets us understand that no
matter what others think of Hester it does not seem to matter. "So said
Heater Prone, and glanced her eyes downward at the scarlet letter. And,
after many years a new grave was delved after a sunken one..."(258). This
was an everlasting impression from the how the symbolism of the letter that
lies on her chest to mean angel witch was another good meaning for her.
Throughout the "Scarlet Letter" Hawthorne portrays symbolism of the
letter "A". This makes readers think something about one thing that really
could be totally different. Still at the end of this book it came out to
be a positive meaning. The purpose of this to show that objects in stories
can have more than one meaning you just have to use your imagination. Not
like the beginning when the "A" stood for adultery.