2 October 2015
In the beginning of the novel, Hester Prynne exits the prison of the Puritan community of Boston, a large letter “A” clearly visible on her chest and a child in her arms. This is the first time the letter makes an appearance, and it is here where readers realize Hester has done something terribly wrong. The letter “A” sewn onto her clothes initially represents “adulterer”, but who exactly is the father of Pearl, the child Hester is holding, if her husband has been missing for two years? The townspeople would love to know the answer to that question, too, but it is only revealed to readers a few chapters into the story as being the unexpected Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale faces an immense amount of guilt that plagues him throughout the novel, and the letter “A” seeming to haunt him. The letter is used throughout the novel, and the meaning behind it, whether it means adulterer, able, or even angel, is consistently up for debate. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter, the scarlet letter “A” carries ambiguous meaning.
When Hester first walks out of the prison doors, the scarlet letter is immediately introduced to the readers as something very negative. It is Hester’s punishment for committing adultery, and the child she holds in her hands makes her sin even more obvious. In the beginning, Hester’s punishment did not seem real, and she feels an unimaginable amount of shame. This is shown on the first scaffold scene:
With all the townspeople assembled and levelling their stern regards at Hester Prynne,—yes, at herself,—who stood on the scaffold of the pillory, an infant on her arm, and the letter A, in scarlet, fantastically embroidered with gold thread, upon her ...
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...ding for adulterer just as Hester’s own “A” does, but the sexton sees the letter as standing for angel in result of Heaven gaining the town’s own Governor Winthrop. Along with those two examples, the scarlet letter makes yet another appearance at the end of the novel. This time it is on Dimmesdale’s chest, and the people of Boston perceive it to stand for different things. Some believe the letter on his chest is a result of his guilt, and the self-inflicted wound is his form of penance. However, others thought that the "A" is not of Dimmesdale’s own doing, and that either God placed it there or Dimmesdale made it appear by way of magic. Either way, the scarlet letter is mentioned various times throughout the novel and never has a consistent nor clear meaning.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003. Print.
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