The Power of the Symbol in The Scarlet Letter
All classic literature uses symbolism in one way or another. Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter is no different. The very basis of every character, their personal appearance and way they act revolves around one thing, the Scarlet Letter. The scarlet letter is an "A", in crimson fabric, worn by a Puritan woman for her act of adultery. Its very existence is solely to cause shame and remorse on Hester Prynne and her daughter Pearl, who was conceived in her lust, but it comes to stand for so much more. All of Hawthorne's main characters; Hester Prynne, Pearl, Reverend Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth, feel the wrath of one piece of cloth and learn how character can be created or destroyed by the simplest things.
Hester Prynne is the cause for all of a Puritan woman with more than her weight to bear. She was sent to America by her husband, Roger Chillingworth, where she committed adultery with her Reverend Dimmesdale and conceived a child, Pearl. In the beginning of the book, her beauty shines through the plain appearance of Puritan women. "The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brown and deep black eyes. She was lady like, too, after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days; characterized by a certain state and dignity, rather than which is now recognized as this indication."(55). But, with her sin, comes the dreaded Scarlet A. The letter, which she so beautifully embroidered, seems to suck up all of the beauty that she possesses. The knowledge that this mark is to be worn for all eternity eats away at her. As time wears on, Hester's hair no longer shines in the sunlight, her clothing becomes plainer and her very essence seems to fade away. The only thing of immense exquisiteness is her Scarlet Letter.
Time doesn't just have its way with Hester's looks; it also wears down her personality as well. Normal routines, such as a trip to the market, now cause her immense pain and suffering. Everyone is able to see her symbol of weakness that she wears on her chest. Besides being in the company of her daughter, she can only find joy in embroidery. "It was the art-then, as now, almost the only one within a woman's grasp-of needlework. She bore on her breast, in the curiously embroidered letter, a specimen of her delicate and imaginative skill, of which the dames of a court might gladly have availed themselves, to add the richer and more spiritual adornment of human ingenuity to their fabrics of silk and gold" (85). With the help of her many talents as a seamstress, Hester slowly gains the town's good graces. They even start to see her as a person and come to know the A to stand for...