A Perception Of Sin: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter

942 words - 4 pages

Through out the course of history, those who were considered sinners were often out casted from the society. This is much the case with Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. After a public trial, Hester is considered a sinner due to her birthing of a so called “devil child”. Hester is convicted to the life long bearing of a scarlet letter on her chest. The Scarlet Letter that Hester Prynne wears symbolizes the change in perception of sin through out the novel. Due to the revelations of the governor Winthrop and the reverend Dimmesdale, the way sin is perceived changes from one of shame to the idea that every one is a sinner in their own right.
In the beginning of the Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is standing on a scaffold, before puritan elders, being tried for adultery. The elders find her to be guilty and sentence her to the wearing of a scarlet letter on her chest for the rest of her life. The people of the town were angry and astonished that Hester, a fair young lady, had sinned. To sin was a shameful thing to do and thus, in the early chapters of the book, Hester’s scarlet letter is perceived as a mark of sin and shame. As time passed, Hester was often referred to by the “A” that symbolized her sin. When she went to the Governor’s home, the young puritan children who were playing saw her approaching and exclaimed “Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter…!” (Hawthorne 93) On one occasion, the scarlet “A” virtually hid Hester, so that all that could be seen of her was her mark of sin. “…the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance…she seemed absolutely hidden behind it.” (Hawthorne 97) For many years, Hester was looked down upon with shame in the community for the sin that her scarlet letter constantly reminded everyone of. Later on in Hawthorne’s novel, however, the perception of sin begins to change with the death of the governor Winthrop.
It was not long after Hester’s visit to the governor’s home, that he passes away. Of course the governor was thought to be a holy man and none of the puritans thought of him as a sinner. However, on the night of his death, the old sexton noticed that in the sky, a scarlet “A” appeared. “…a great red letter in the sky, - the letter A, which we interpreted to stand for Angel.” (Hawthorne 144). The sight of this mystical “A” caused a bit of uncertainty for a few reasons. One reason was the meaning of the letter. In Hester’s case, the Scarlet letter was meant...

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