Symbolism is traditionally a sign or token of something.
In the matterof literature, the definition of the literary device, symbolism, ismore complicated. Symbols of literature are usually metaphysical. Themain symbol of The Scarlet Letter is the red “A” that Hester Prynne wassentenced to wear on her chest. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s intention was tomake the meaning of the crimson token worn on the bosom of HesterPrynne is highly ambiguous. In this he was successful.
Although the”A” means “adulteress” to the people of Boston, to reader the “A” mayhave other meanings such as “American” or “able”. To the townspeople,author, and reader clearly the original intention of the “A” was tostand for “adulteress”. When Hester Prynne became pregnant during theabsence of her husband she was accused and convicted of adultery.
Hersentence was to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her bosom to let everyoneknow that she was an adulteress, forevermore. Because of her uniquesentence everyone knew that she was, in fact, an adulteress and peopletreated her that way. Society condemned her for her sin, withoutknowing anything else. Hester was forced to live alone on theoutskirts of the city. She was a seamstress, but got very littlebusiness. When she used her skills to decorate the “A”, things onlygot worse.
People felt that she was trying to show off the fact thatshe 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 toreve! al that Hester Prynne was an adulteress.
Although the firstintention of the “A” was to mark Hester Prynne as an adulteress, italso has other, more abstract meanings. The letter has a relation tothe word, “American”. Hester Prynne’s “A” reflects an “American”meaning in various ways. For one, America is a melting pot of manypeoples and ideas, as was Hester’s “A”.
She earned that “A” undercertain situations. She was in a loveless marriage. She had beenseparated from her husband for 2 years. She thought he might be at thebottom of the sea. She was in love with another man. She wasperceived and punished under a strict Puritan eye. Like thedevelopment of America, the were many conditions that led to thedeveloped of Hester’s “A”. Another way that Hester Prynne’s “A”symbolizes America, is that they were both shaped by past actions.
Nomatter how Hester had changed, since her act of adultery, at any pointin her life, she was forever damned to be labeled as an adulteress withthe “A”. The symbol of ! the scarlet letter shaped who Hesterbecame. America was shaped by everything that happened in her past.All the various people and cultures, mistakes she made, and herrelationships with other countries. Along with meaning “adulteress” or”American”, Hester Prynne’s letter “A” stood for “able”. Hester Prynnewas a very able woman. She was too strong of a woman for PuritanBoston right from the start. That was known from the very beginning ofthe novel when she faced the people of Boston with her sentence and herdignity.
She always held her head high. She was able to accept herpunishment. She was able to take with pride all the torment thetownspeople could throw at her. Hester was also an able mother, nurseand seamstress. Despite everyone’s talk about Pearl, Hester never letthat interfere with her mothering Pearl.
She was able to bring up astrong daughter. Hester had a strong devotion to her work as a nurse.She also went on with her work as a seamstress. Hester’s mostimportant accomplishment was her ability to overcome her sentence. Sheaccepted her sin and accepted herself.
She learned to love who shewas. By accepting herself other people began to foll! ow her exampleand embrace who she was, not what she was labeled as. The main symbolof Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is the red letter “A” thatHester Prynne wore on her chest.
This is the most important symbol ofthe story, and symbolism is a major literary device of the story. Themain character, Hester Prynne wore the letter throughout the story, andthe letter took every road that the story did. The letter became onewith Hester and Hester became the meaning of the scarlet letter.