Love, Lust, and Adultery; all ingredients of a daytime soap opera. Actually this all

takes place in the Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne over one-hundred years ago

which takes place in Puritan American. Along with many excessive details, Hawthorne, in writing

the novel, included quite a bit of symbolism. Obviously the most probable aspect of this

symbolism would have to be the Letter A, a burden which Hester Prynne must wear for her sin of

Adultery. Making the theme much more complex, he diverts the meaning of this letter a number

of times. Almost as in a hall of mirrors, the letter A is reflected, refracted, and duplicated

seemingly endlessly throughout the story. Although it changes often, the meaning of the letter

always refers back to its main themes.

As stated above, the most obvious meaning of the Scarlet A is adultery. But as the story

unfolds, the A on her breast begins to represent different things. For example, because of

Hester’s charitable acts in the community, some people begin to think that the A stands for able.

And later when community members see a Scarlet A in the sky on the night of the minister’s

death, they believe that it must stand for Angel. So through the course of the novel, the Scarlet

Letter develops a large variety of meaning.

In order to understand the many meanings of the scarlet letter, it is useful to see first how

it is shown through the child Pearl who is actually a living representation of the Scarlet Letter

herself. Much of the meaning of the A is found in Pearl because she is one of the results of

Hester’s sin. Hawthorne even goes to the extent of dressing the child as the Letter A, making her

a visual representation. Even more so, Pearl appears to have an obsession with the actual Letter

A. This connection between Pearl and the Scarlet Letter is made early on which allows the reader

to derive meaning of the A through Pearl’s behavior. First of all, Pearl is uncontrollable, hyper,

bad-tempered, and lacking all moral values which would be expected from a Puritan child. She is
outspoken but often in touch with nature which gives the letter a wild yet natural sense.

In examining the meaning of the Scarlet Letter to Hester and her lover, Arthur

Dimmesdale, it is important to note their relationship to the Letter A. Hester, unlike

Dimmesdale, wears an outward punishment that everyone can see because, naturally it would be

impossible to hide the evidence of her affair. Dimmesdale on the other hand keeps his guilt hidden

and isolated which ultimately is his main weakness and eventually leads to his breakdown. It is

this which develops one of the main themes. That is that Guilt over sin can destroy a person,

body, and soul.

Chillingworth’s character also completes another theme. That would be that Revenge

destroys both the victim and his seeker. Throughout the novel, Chillingworth devotes his life to

getting back at Dimmesdale for committing adultery with his wife and actually destroys himself at

an attempt to seek revenge.

At the end of the novel, the reader obviously sees that Hester was truly better off then

Dimmesdale with her guilt portrayed so that everyone could see it instead of living with the inner

pain. Hawthorne ends the book with one moral: “Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to

world, if not your worst, yet some trait where by the worst may be inferred!” Human nature

holds all aspects of Hester’s punishment. To “Be true” means to understand that we all wear a

Scarlet Letter.