Symbol of Shame in Scarlet Letter

Symbolism in literature is the hidden meaning in a piece of work. It is used to represent moral and/ or religious values and beliefs. As time goes on in the world, society and what makes up society changes. In today’s sense, pride is based on the individualism that one has developed. The diversity in today’s society allows for many different beliefs and social concepts. Looking back to the early years when Puritanism was an ongoing religion with many followers, tradition along with strict biblical standards were everything; but now many things have changed.

The reality of change is seen in the book, The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorn whereby as society changes so to does the perception of all symbolism. The metaphorical meaning of the scarlet letter changes from this symbol of shame to a powerful symbol of identity to Hester; the transformation shows the changes Hester experiences in her life. These changes bring Hester power, power to stand for who she is, power to overcome the humiliation and pain.

She then finds herself able, able of becoming herself, to become a representation of an individual with a strong sense of self-empowerment.

The symbolism behind the scarlet letter changes throughout the novel. Initially the letter symbolizes the sin of adultery, the crime, the punishment, the humiliation that Hester has to endure because of the strict beliefs of the puritan society. This uncivil punishment causes Hester this “dreadful agony in feeling a human eye upon the token; the spot never grew callous; it seemed, on the contrary, to grow more sensitive with daily torture. ” (Hawthorne, 74)

At the beginning of the novel the A causes Hester much “dreadful agony” and “torture. It causes her torture to live with this permanent mark of sin on her. The A is the symbol of her pure “agony” and suffering. A change of heart comes; Hester alters its meaning through the hard work she does in the town. Society begins to recognize that the scarlet letter has now begun to represent not sin, but holiness and righteousness instead of the unforgiving sin and “dreadful agony. ” Some people now began to think that the letter stands for “Able” since Hester is such an able, individualistic and, powerful woman.

This change in the A is caused by the perception that people have: this change enables Hester to stand up for herself to be an “Able” woman. It has “the effect of the cross on a nun’s bosom. It imparted to the wearer a kind of sacredness, which enabled her to walk securely amid all peril, had she fallen among thieves, it would have kept her safe” (135). The A is now a representation for sacredness and holiness. For Hawthorne to go from saying that the letter represents sin to representing holiness is a large step but is capable because of the strength and individual power Hester has gained thought the novel.

For Hester the letter was meant for punishment but brought Hester sacredness, it brought Hester power, redemption and glory. The puritan society in the book Scarlet Letter is portrayed as a place of unchanging tradition and strict rules based upon religion. Those who went against society were punished strictly and looked down upon by the towns’ people. As time went on, those strict punishments turned into a source of identity to those who committed these cases of sin.

The changes over taking the society are changing the metaphorical meaning of the scarlet letter, the “letter [first] was a representation of stigma in which attracted the world’s scorn and bitterness, [but then] became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, and yet with reverence…” (206). The transformation of the scarlet letter from this “scornfulness and bitterness” to this sense of something to be sorrowed over something, to awe over, shows the metaphorical transformation of Hester.

From at first Hester being this representation of sin and Hester seeing the letter as a symbol of unjust humiliation; to where Hester takes control of her own identity, and in doing so becomes an example for others to follow by. She is not the example of sin that was once set upon her, but now an example of redemption and self-empowerment. The power of individualism allowed for Hester to become her own representation of self- power and control. The transformation of the scarlet letter from this repulsion of sin to this case of respect metaphorically represents Hester’s own changes from her embarrassment and anger to her sense of redemption.

The scarlet letter has a metaphorical representation of Hester’s actual self. The reality of change is seen in the book whereby as society changes so to does the perception of all symbolism. These changes allow for Hester to become herself, it enables Hester to have this sense of pride instead of embarrassment and agony. The metaphorical meaning of the scarlet letter changes from this symbol of shame to a powerful symbol of identity to Hester; the transformation shows the changes Hester experiences in her life. Along with time comes change, not always in a good sense but it’s what one makes of the situation to where it becomes good or bad.

Hester first is in agony and feels as if she is getting tortured, but then becomes determined; she finds that in order to get free of this pain she must become powerful. She is not the example of sin that once caused her pain, but now she is an example of redemption and self-empowerment. You can always find something good in life no matter the situation, you just have to make change, look at the positive and turn anything negative into redemption. Look past at what you’ve done and strive yourself to become better.

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