Vice or Virtue in The Scarlet Letter

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Vice or Virtue in The Scarlet Letter

Hawthorn's Novel, The Scarlet Letter, is brimming with many vivid symbols, the most apparent of which is the scarlet letter "A", that Hester Prynne is made to wear upon her chest. Throughout the novel, hawthorn presents the scarlet letter to the reader in a variety of ways. Yet an important question emerges, as the life of Hester Prynne is described, which deals with the affects that both the scarlet letter and Hester have on each other. There is no clear-cut answer to this question, as many examples supporting both arguments can be found throughout the novel. The letter obviously causes Hester much grief, as she is mocked and ostracized by many of the townspeople, yet on the other hand, later in the novel Hester's courage and pride help to change the meaning of scarlet letter in the eyes of both herself and the public.

First, there many instances, both literal and symbolic, which support the notion that the scarlet letter has a strong affect on Hester. As seen early in the novel, the public opinion of a seventeenth century puritan society can be quite narrow-minded. As Hester is first marched out of the prison, the women of the town scowl at her. "At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne's forehead." (p.36) The initial opinion of the society is extremely cruel and Hester, who tries desperately to remain strong and undisturbed in the face of this mob anger, is by no means deaf. The cruel actions of the townspeople throughout the novel contribute to the ways in which the scarlet letter affects Hester. Yet, these affects of the scarlet letter on Hester can be defined more specifically when examined on the symbolic level. In many ways, Hes...

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...rol over the scarlet letter.

Throughout the novel, Hawthorn gives many reasons that support both sides of the argument over the affects that both the scarlet letter and Hester have on eachother. Yet, when symbolism depicts the scarlet letter to be Pearl, the argument between Hester and the letter is best epitomized in the following quotation. "In giving her existence, a great law had been broken; and the result was a being, whose elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder…" (p.62) The quotation, if examined with the thought that "her" refers to the scarlet letter, depicts that although Hester's courage allows the letter to be seen as beautiful, there still remains a shadow of haunting disorder that the letter casts over Hester's life. Hester shapes her life so that it remains in fragile balance with the ominous shadow of the letter.
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