Scarlet Letter In the novel The Scarlet Letter, the scarlet letter A has several meanings throughout the novel. For each character the scarlet letter stands for something different. Each of the main characters interprets the letter in different forms. The townspeople observe the letter as a form of shame and embarrassment. For Hester the letter takes on several different forms. Arthur Dimmesdale, the Reverend, sees the letter on Hesters breast as a constant torture of his sin and secrete.
He goes through terrible ordeals throughout the novel. For Roger Chillingworth (Hesters husband), the letter stands for power. The Townspeople see the scarlet letter A as a form of embarrassment for Hester and a way of keeping order and peace within the colony. The story begins with Hester having to go on the scaffold and stand there for three hours with her two shameful sins, the letter A (which stands for Adulteress) and her illegitimate child. The magistrates feel as though constant public embarrassment will disclose the secret of the childs father.
On the scaffold Hester experiences harsh words. A group of women are having a discussion in the crowd and one-woman states, At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynnes forehead. She may cover it with a brooch, or such like heathenish adornment, and so walk the streets as brave as ever (1332). This statement shows that it was not enough that the townspeople knew she committed a sin, but they wanted to see the sin on her chest constantly. This letter somehow gave them power over Hester and made them feel more superior. Without them seeing the letter they felt that her sin was not being seen.
Even after Hester moves away from the town, into the forest, children go there to get a glimpse of her; this continues the embarrassment for Hester. Also, the ministers of the town use Hesters sin in their sermons. Another way in which the town punishes Hester and tries to have some type of power over her is when they try to take her child. As the novel progresses and Hester becomes a helpful person in the community, people begin to accept her in society again but the scarlet letter is never overseen. The Scarlet letter means something entirely different to Hester.
At first the letter means the same for Hester as it does for the townspeople, shame. However, as the novel progresses, the letter changes in significance. The letter on Hesters breast begins to break her down. She loses her femininity due to the letter. The letter is a constant reminder of what she has done. One women states in the beginning of the novel, let her cover the mark as she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart (1333).
This explains that no matter what Hester does the pain that she will endure will always be with her. As the illegitimate child Pearl gets older, Hester becomes worried because the child has a funny way about her. Hester explains how Pearl has a fiend way about her. She believes this is because of how Pearl was conceived, through the Scarlet letter. Although Pearl is her great gift, she is also a reminder of her sin, the adultery. Pearl is also a constant reminder because Hester lives through Pearl.
Hester does not wear bright clothing but dresses Pearl in bright ravishing dresses. Also, the children of the town treat Pearl the same way the adults treat Hester. Hester believes that Pearl has a cleansed soul. Hawthorne also shows that Hester is a tortured soul because he explains how the sun does not touch Hester. Pearl makes the comment, the sunshine does not love you.
It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom (1404-1405). After Hester meets Dimmesdale in the forest and reveals Chillingworths true identity as her husband, they become close and both Hester and Dimmesdale feel some type of relief. Hester even removes the Scarlet letter, her femininity flows back into her, and the sunlight touches her once again. At the end of the story the Scarlet Letter takes on a different significance for Hester. It is a symbol of her courage and for everything that she has been through.
It also symbolizes her love for Arthur Dimmesdale. Arthur Dimmesdal is another character that the Scarlet letter affects tremendously. Dimmesdal is tortured by his silence. He becomes very ill, malnourished, and he constantly puts his hand over his heart. He no longer believes that he is worthy of being saved. He states, I could be will content, that my labors, and my sorrows, and my sins, and my pains, should shortly end with me, and what is earthly of them be buried in my grave, and the spiritual go with me to my eternal state, rather than that you should put your skill to the proof in my behalf (1371).
He is so tortured by not being able to confess his secrete that he would fast for several days, pray for several hours, whip himself, and even carve an A on his chest. Finally he gets some relief when Hester agrees to live at the Colony with him. He comes back to life but it is short lived. The torture finally gets to him and the secret he held eventually killed him. However, at the end he finally is able to find the strength to confess.
The Scarlet Letter also affected Roger Chillingworth. He is seen as the villain in the novel. Throughout the novel his main drive is revenge against Dimmesdale and Hester. He explains to Hester why he will not kill her, Even if I imagine a scheme of vengeance, what could I do better for my object than to let thee liveLive, therefore, and bear about thy doom with thee, in the eyes of men and women, -in the eyes of him whom thou didst call thy husband, -in the eyes of yonder child! And, that thou mayest live, take off this draught (1345). He basically is set out to destroy Dimmesdale and Hester by torture.
He later befriends Dimmesdale and slowly breaks him down. After Dimmesdale confesses, Chillingworth no longer feels there is a reason to live. He dies within a year after Dimmesdale dies. This shows that the only thing Chillingworth had in him was evil and since that had nothing else to feed on, he died. Overall, the Letter A meant several different things to several different people. Each character had a different role, therefore the letter was supposed to take on different meanings. The Scarlet Letter always meant adulteress but in the end on the gravestone of Dimmesdale and Hester it meant forgiveness, love, and togetherness.