Love, Lust, and Adultery; all ingredients of a day
time soap opera. Actually this all takes place in the Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne over one-hundred years ago
which takes place in Puritan American. Along with many excessive details, Hawthorne, in writing
the novel, included quite a bit of symbolism. Obviously the most probable aspect of this
symbolism would have to be the Letter A, a burden which Hester Prynne must wear for her sin of
Adultery. Making the theme much more complex, he diverts the meaning of this letter a number
of times. Almost as in a hall of mirrors, the letter A is reflected, refracted, and duplicated
seemingly endlessly throughout the story. Although it changes often, the meaning of the letter
always refers back to its main themes.
As stated above, the most obvious meaning of the Scarlet A is adultery. But as the story
unfolds, the A on her breast begins to represent different things. For example, because of
Hesters charitable acts in the community, some people begin to think that the A stands for able.
And later when community members see a Scarlet A in the sky on the night of the ministers
death, they believe that it must stand for Angel. So through the course of the novel, the Scarlet
Letter develops a large variety of meaning.
In order to understand the many meanings of the scarlet letter, it is useful to see first how
it is shown through the child Pearl who is actually a living representation of the Scarlet Letter
herself. Much of the meaning of the A is found in Pearl because she is one of the results of
Hesters sin. Hawthorne even goes to the extent of dressing the child as the Letter A, making her
a visual representation. Even more so, Pearl appears to have an obsession with the actual Letter
A. This connection between Pearl and the Scarlet Letter is made early on which allows the reader
to derive meaning of the A through Pearls behavior. First of all, Pearl is uncontrollable, hyper,
bad-tempered, and lacking all moral values which would be expected from a Puritan child. She is
outspoken but often in touch with nature which gives the letter a wild yet natural sense.
In examining the meaning of the Scarlet Letter to Hester and her lover, Arthur
Dimmesdale, it is important to note their relationship to the Letter A. Hester, unlike
Dimmesdale, wears an outward punishment that everyone can see because, naturally it would be
impossible to hide the evidence of her affair. Dimmesdale on the other hand keeps his guilt hidden
and isolated which ultimately is his main weakness and eventually leads to his breakdown. It is
this which develops one of the main themes. That is that Guilt over sin can destroy a person,
body, and soul.
Chillingworths character also completes another theme. That would be that Revenge
destroys both the victim and his seeker. Throughout the novel, Chillingworth devotes his life to
getting back at Dimmesdale for committing adultery with his wife and actually destroys himself at
an attempt to seek revenge.
At the end of the novel, the reader obviously sees that Hester was truly better off then
Dimmesdale with her guilt portrayed so that everyone could see it instead of living with the inner
pain. Hawthorne ends the book with one moral: Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to
world, if not your worst, yet some trait where by the worst may be inferred! Human nature
holds all aspects of Hesters punishment. To Be true means to understand that we all wear a