The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a cult classic. And with good reason. Anyone who simply believes that the title of this book just signifies that the protagonist wears a scarlet “A” on her dress in punishment of her adultery is ignorant. Obviously this paper would not be required if such were true. Instead, The Scarlet Letter is extremely ambiguous. One can argue that the scarlet letter is a character itself. I intend to flesh this out in literary, historic, and symbolic terms.

What is The Scarlet Letter really about? “It has all the ingredients of a soap opera, but it is far more than that,” (Johnson 1995) writes Claudia Durst Johnson in her book which analyzes The Scarlet Letter thoroughly. Rather it is about the consequences of breaking the moral code, or in this case a moral law. It is about failing to be true to human nature. It is about cruel and terrible revenge. It is about the hypocrisy of members of a community who refuse to acknowledge that each of them is just as human, just as vulnerable to passionate feelings as the women they label an adulterer. I could go on and on. The Scarlet Letter’s psychological aspects seem never-ending.

The letter is a symbol. While it has many implied meanings, it also has literal meanings. The first and most obvious of the latter is that Hester’s “A” stands for adultery and , as the narrator puts it, “women’s frailty and sinful passion” (83). But the “A” on her breast begins to represent different things as the story unfolds. For example, some people begin to think the “A” stands for able when she helps out the community. “In the course of the novel, the “A” seems to encompass the entire range of human beingness, from the earthly and passionate adulteress to the pure and...

... middle of paper ... America during the seventeenth century. He wanted his readers to develop their own interpretation of how America has changed. A number, except for certain exceptions, usually does not mean anything other than its value. Thus, it was ruled out.

Why is it The Scarlet Letter? Why not The Scarlet A? A title is much more effective when it is more general. At the end of the day, authors write books to make money. The Scarlet A is a confusing, as well as less appealing, title that would have sold much less. The title is better off being general, and then allowing the book to be more specific. What is more memorable? “The Scarlet Letter” or “The Scarlet A: Adultery in the 1600’s?” The Scarlet Letter was titled the way it was for a reason. It symbolizes and appeals to every major theme in the book, while making it obvious on first glance what the book centralizes on.
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