The Scarlet Letter
A Stands for Able
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a classic tale that takes place in a strict Puritan society, and one that describes the journey of facing consequences. The story's main characters all perform actions that they will, later on, need to take responsibility for, whether they were driven by guilt, revenge, shame, or even growth. Hester Prynne committed a sin that was driven out of passion, and as a result of her sin, she had to face the punishments and judgments of her society. Yet instead of letting herself be defined by the useless rules that her town decided on her, she defined her mistake as a lesson. With time and patience, she was able to grow out of the shame that was brought to her, and accept the consequences that were to come. Her strength and character became her legacy in her fictional town, and outside of it as well. Hawthorne made a literary legend of Hester. Through her acceptance and perseverance, she made it clear to the past societies that mistakes and sins are part of human nature, and they shouldn't just be feared, but understood in order for there to be true repentance, and in return forgiveness.
Hester Prynne’s sin was that she had an affair with a man that was not her husband. For her crime of adultery, she was punished with the mark of a letter “A” to be worn on her chest and even had a child as a result of her act. Her daughter, Pearl, was a living reminder of what she had done. Yet despite her being a sinner who committed a horrible crime in the eyes of the townspeople, Hester could come to be seen as a religious symbol within the story. She is this symbol because through her expedition of self-acceptance and discovery she illustrated the aspects of both sin and repentance. The two concepts created a paradox in both restricting Hester and freeing her as well.
Hester’s purpose to represent sin was introduced from the very beginning of the story. Right when she stood on the scaffold with her baby and the letter “A” on her chest, she became a symbol for all to literally see. Her punishment was to stand in front of her townspeople so they can be witnesses to the crime she committed. Her sin was also depicted through the literal outcome of her affair, her child, and through the letter “A” she had to bear on her chest which stood for “Adultery”. Therefore she is clearly marked for committing adultery and has to live with this mark for the rest of her life in this town. Her daughter must live with this shame as well since she was a product of the sin that Hester comes to represent throughout the novel. Despite Hester’s strength in accepting her fate, her mark always left her as an outcast in her town. Yet this isolation from society did not hinder her growth, and she was still able to make a reputation for herself through her beautiful needlework, and her constant want to help the poor and needy. She was able through her will and good actions to change the “A” from a sin to a good deed. The townspeople later on even began to consider it to stand for “Able” since Hester was able to change her reputation by helping her community and not fleeing from her reality. This persistence was what made her become a religious symbol of sin because she chose to face the outcomes of her sin and not let it hinder her from bettering herself after committing it.
Through her sin, Hester was also able to express repentance. She was a symbol of repentance because her growth was able to sprout from this religious aspect. Her repentance might not have been spiritual, but she physically and emotionally showed signs of repentance after she continued her life choosing to live in a town that cast her out and labeled her instead of feeling out of shame. By raising her daughter and contributing to helping those in need, her good actions were erasing her former mistakes. This was literal in the sense of her reputation since the townspeople began to change their view of her after the years she spent doing good. It is also expressed through her intention to use her mistake as a lesson she can teach to her daughter. All these attempts at fixing what was broken are signs of Hester’s repentance, and this aspect contributes to making her such an important role model in literature.
“She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom!” (chapter 18). This quote from Hawthorne’s classic novel is important in illustrating Hester Prynne’s struggle with the sin she has committed. A sin that she will always be reminded of, and an act that she has learned to accept and grow strong from. The quote was stated after Hester removed the letter from her chest when she was in the forest with her daughter and lover. The weight described could represent the shame and guilt that she had to carry because of the scarlet letter. When she removed it she felt free, but soon after she placed it back on. Her decision to stay in the town and wear the letter showed how Hester accepts the blame and consequences of her actions. Through this acceptance, she was able to better herself as a person and grow strong in her will and judgment. She was able to motivate herself to keep working and to keep helping those around her. She might have been the one to blame for committing the sin, but in the end, she was the one to change her circumstance for the better, making her not only a symbol of sin but also of faith.