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The Scarlet Letter
Significance of Title
The title of a novel usually gives a significant image or fraise hinting towards what the book is going to be about. In this book it is all that and more. The scarlet "A" itself is just a patch that is placed on her chest, but the symbolism involving a woman, her illegitimate child, and her lover is what makes the book. The number of situations in which the characteristics of Hester Prynne are contrasted with those of the Puritan women in Boston at the time are remarkable. It was Nathaniel Hawthorne's way of expressing his dislike for the Puritan way of life even though he did not condone adultery. The symbolism of the scarlet "A" is his way of showing Hester's pride, strength, and loving nature.
When Hester is forced to assume that her husband has been lost at sea, she decides that she does not want to be alone for the rest of her life. She soon gets to know Reverend Dimmesdale quite well and in the process he becomes the father of Hester's child. When the townspeople find out that the child is not her husband, since her husband is yet to arrive in the colony. This is then forced to be publicly humiliated by wearing a patch at all times that signifies that she has committed adultery. The patch is supposed to be a constant reminder to all the people of the town and to Hester that adultery will not be tolerated.
The patch is at first demoralizing in that it makes her an outcast of the community, but once she realizes that she must stay strong in order to survive and make a difference she does not mind the patch. It is a symbol of her growth as a woman and her pride. "The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread." She was respected for this, and is shown that she is capable of helping others. This even after what she had gone through.
The toughest part of the whole public ridicule is the pressure that she faces to name the father of the child. The political authorities go to all lengths to get her to reveal the father, but she will have no part in it. She tells them that if the father wants to come forward he will do so on his own, but that she is going to keep his identity concealed.
Hester did not deliberately plan to commit adultery, but she loved Dimmesdale. Her love for him was greater than her respect for the Puritan law. The letter she wore on her chest was symbolic of this independent way of thinking. She was not a Puritan, and was not afraid to admit it to the entire town. Hester's daughter, Pearl was "all she had." Pearl had come with a great price, and this was symbolic about name. All Hester's struggles were done so that Pearl could have a good life, she sacrificed a lot for her. Pearl admired her mother's letter, and wanted to be like her mother, and the scarlet letter was representative of this. Pearl was the one who insisted her mother put the patch back on when she takes it off in the forest. Pearl is also living evidence of her sin.
Although it is not until the death of Reverend Dimmesdale and the marriage of Pearl that Hester wins the acceptance of the people in Boston for her community service. She still feels like she made a difference and maintained her pride, strength, and love for those she cared about in a hard difficult situation. The scarlet letter is with her even after death when at the end she is buried near Dimmesdale's grave and there is a reference to the scarlet "A" against the black background on Hester and Dimmesdale's tombstones.
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