Scarlet Letter Symbols In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the letter “A” changes it’s meaning many different times. This change is significant. It shows growth in the characters, and the community in which they live. The letter “A” begins as a symbol of sin. It then becomes a symbol of her ability to do and help things, and finally it becomes a symbol of her respect for herself.
The letter “A,” worn on Hester’s bodice, is a symbol of her adultery against Roger Chillingworth. This letter is meant to be worn in shame, and to make Hester feel unwanted. “Here, she said to herself, had been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment . .” (84) Hester is ashamed of her sin, but she chooses not to show it. She committed this sin in the heat of passion, and fully admits it because, though she is ashamed, she also received her greatest treasure, Pearl, out of it. She is a very strong woman to be able to hold up so well against what she must face.
Many would have fled Boston, and sought a place where no one knew of her great sin. Hester chose to stay though, which showed a lot of strength and integrity. Any woman with enough nerve to hold up against a town which despised her very existence, and to stay in a place where her daughter is referred to as a “devil child,” either has some sort of psychological problem, or is a very tough woman. The second meaning that the letter “A” took was “able.” The townspeople who once condemned her now believed her scarlet “A” to stand for her ability to create her beautiful needlework and for her unselfish assistance to the poor and sick. “The letter was the symbol of her calling. 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 its original signification.” (156) At this point, a lot of the townspeople realized what a high quality character Hester possessed.
“Do you see that woman with the embroidered badge? It is our Hester- the town’s own Hester- who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comforting to the afflicted!” (157) The townspeople soon began to believe that the badge served to ward off evil, and Hester grew to be quite loved amongst the people of the town. Hester overcame the shame of her sin through the purity and goodness of her soul. Unselfishly offering her time and love to those who needed her the most proved that she was not worthy of the fate which had been dealt to her. The final face of the letter “A” was a symbol of Hester’s respect for herself, and for her life. It just changed to a way of life for Hester. After returning to England for years, and helping Pearl to gain a better life, Hester returned to don the badge which she now felt was a part of her.
It is not as if she could not live without it and begin a new life in England, but it was easier for her to return to America. The Puritan settlement was her home. It was where the most important events in her life had occurred, and she felt best being there. “But there was a more real life for Hester Prynne here in New England than in the unknown region where Pearl had found a home. Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her penitence.” (244) Hester was in no way legally or religiously bound to wear the badge.
She did though. She had found her home in New England, and that is where she intended to stay. The three changes in the scarlet letter were significant, and they showed her sin, her ability and her life. Hester was a strong, admirable woman who went through more emotional torture that most people go through in a lifetime.