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Symbolism is traditionally a sign or token of something. In the matter

of literature, the definition of the literary device, symbolism, is

more complicated. Symbols of literature are usually metaphysical. The

main symbol of The Scarlet Letter is the red “A” that Hester Prynne was

sentenced to wear on her chest. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s intention was to

make the meaning of the crimson token worn on the bosom of Hester

Prynne is highly ambiguous. In this he was successful. Although the

“A” means “adulteress” to the people of Boston, to reader the “A” may

have other meanings such as “American” or “able”. To the townspeople,

author, and reader clearly the original intention of the “A” was to

stand for “adulteress”. When Hester Prynne became pregnant during the

absence of her husband she was accused and convicted of adultery. Her

sentence was to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her bosom to let everyone

know that she was an adulteress, forevermore. Because of her unique

sentence everyone knew that she was, in fact, an adulteress and people

treated her that way. Society condemned her for her sin, without

knowing anything else. Hester was forced to live alone on the

outskirts of the city. She was a seamstress, but got very little

business. When she used her skills to decorate the “A”, things only

got worse. People felt that she was trying to show off the fact that

she was an adulteress, or that she was proud to be. Hester’s daughter,

Pearl, was constantly ridiculed by other children for being an “evil”,

“devil” child. Clearly it was the first intention of the symbol to

reve! al that Hester Prynne was an adulteress. Although the first

intention of the “A” was to mark Hester Prynne as an adulteress, it

also has other, more abstract meanings. The letter has a relation to

the word, “American”. Hester Prynne’s “A” reflects an “American”

meaning in various ways. For one, America is a melting pot of many

peoples and ideas, as was Hester’s “A”. She earned that “A” under

certain situations. She was in a loveless marriage. She had been

separated from her husband for 2 years. She thought he might be at the

bottom of the sea. She was in love with another man. She was

perceived and punished under a strict Puritan eye. Like the

development of America, the were many conditions that led to the

developed of Hester’s “A”. Another way that Hester Prynne’s “A”

symbolizes America, is that they were both shaped by past actions. No

matter how Hester had changed, since her act of adultery, at any point

in her life, she was forever damned to be labeled as an adulteress with

the “A”. The symbol of ! the scarlet letter shaped who Hester

became. America was shaped by everything that happened in her past.

All the various people and cultures, mistakes she made, and her

relationships with other countries. Along with meaning “adulteress” or

“American”, Hester Prynne’s letter “A” stood for “able”. Hester Prynne

was a very able woman. She was too strong of a woman for Puritan

Boston right from the start. That was known from the very beginning of

the novel when she faced the people of Boston with her sentence and her

dignity. She always held her head high. She was able to accept her

punishment. She was able to take with pride all the torment the

townspeople could throw at her. Hester was also an able mother, nurse

and seamstress. Despite everyone’s talk about Pearl, Hester never let

that interfere with her mothering Pearl. She was able to bring up a

strong daughter. Hester had a strong devotion to her work as a nurse.

She also went on with her work as a seamstress. Hester’s most

important accomplishment was her ability to overcome her sentence. She

accepted her sin and accepted herself. She learned to love who she

was. By accepting herself other people began to foll! ow her example

and embrace who she was, not what she was labeled as. The main symbol

of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is the red letter “A” that

Hester Prynne wore on her chest. This is the most important symbol of

the story, and symbolism is a major literary device of the story. The

main character, Hester Prynne wore the letter throughout the story, and

the letter took every road that the story did. The letter became one

with Hester and Hester became the meaning of the scarlet letter.


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