Symbolism: S for Superman and A for Adultery in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Scarlet Letter"

Talented writers often use extensive symbolism in there writing to portray intricate thoughts, ideas, and concepts. For example, in the popular 1978 movie Superman the “S” on Superman’s costume stands for super. Along the same lines, the “A” in Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is also a symbol. However, in contrast to the one dimensional meaning of the “S” in Superman, the “A” in The Scarlet Letter has a multifaceted meaning. As the literature unfolds the meaning of the crimson letter shining on Hester Prynne’s bosom subtlety changes from meaning adulterer, to able and finally the “A” becomes a symbol for angel.

It is impossible to understand how the meaning of the scarlet letter transforms as the novel progress without first understanding its literal meaning and how it affects Hester. At the beginning of the novel Hester is depicted to be standing on the scaffold with the scarlet letter as bright as ever glinting on her chest. In the Puritan faith adultery was considered to be the most ignominious offence and the punishment was public humiliation and the burden of the scarlet letter, and its ubiquitous wrath haunting your every move. The disheartening insults that Hester was bombarded with at every corner inevitably made her stronger, “Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers, —stern and wild ones, —they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss (Hawthorn 209). Through the powers of time this strength was what forged new meanings for the scarlet letter.

At the beginning of the novel Hawthorne made it very clear that the scarlet letter stood for adulterer. After Hester’s public humiliation on the town’s scaffold she isolated herself in a cottage and made stunning sewed works. In part, she isolated...

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... endure a mighty hardship and lived a life dedicated to selflessness and sanctity. The glorious letter embroidered on Hester’s bosom was simply used to identify Hester Prynne as apotheosized angel.

The meaning of the flaming letter sewn into Hester Prynne’s bosom smoothly glides in and out of different symbolic meanings. At the beginning of the novel Hester’s scarlet letter is a beacon to the community stating Hester is an adulterer, but as shame and despair gnaw at Hester’s sole she becomes stronger and with her strength the meaning of the crimson embroidery changes to signify a willing and able woman. Finally, with Hester’s death the meaning of the glowing letter can only mean one thing, Angel. Hester is an Angel. For the rest of eternity the adulterer previously known as Hester Prynne will watch over her ancestors from a prestigious throne in heaven.
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