Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter
Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter is a hardworking symbol, it represents: adultery, sin, hard work, skill, charity, righteousness, sacredness, and, of course, grace.
At first, there is no doubt that it symbolizes the sin of adultery, and Hester wears it as punishment. From the very beginning, she is not willing to let it dictate the terms of her punishment.
“On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter 'A.' It was so ...view middle of the document...
She acknowledges her punishment and owns up to it. The letter showcases her talent and artistry, skills that allow her to make a living as a single parent in Puritan Boston. These qualities of strength and independence set her apart, as does her love of beauty, since we meet the Puritans as a crowd of "bearded men, in sad-colored garments and grey steeple-crowned hats” (Cain 626).
As Hester Prynne builds a new life, her hard work and charity end up altering the letter's meaning. Some people even "refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification" (Cain 707), which appears to mean that they forget, or choose to forget, that it's a symbol of her sin. Instead, they say that the "A" stands for "Able"—as in, Hester is such an able woman.
Eventually, the letter even achieves a kind of holiness. It has "the effect of the cross on a nun's bosom. It imparted to the wearer a kind of sacredness, which enabled her to walk securely amid all peril. Had she fallen among thieves, it would have kept her safe" (Cain 708). Many years later, when Hester returns and voluntarily takes up the scarlet letter again, it has become, for her and others, a symbol of grace: "a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked up with awe, yet with reverence too" (Cain 777).