The Scarlet Letter: The Symbol of the Scarlet Letter


In Nathaniel Hawthorne\'s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne\'s scarlet
token liberates her more than it punishes her. First of all, Hester\'s soul is
freed by her admission of her crime; by enduring her earthly punishment, Hester
is assured of a place in the heavens. Also, though her appearance is much
hampered by the scarlet letter, her mind is freed by it, that an intellectual
passion rises from her isolation and suffering. Finally, it defines her
identity, for the letter makes Hester the woman that she is; it gives her roots,
character, and a uniqueness to her being that sets her apart from the other
Puritans. The scarlet letter is indeed a blessing to Hester Prynne, more than
the curse she believes it to be.
The scarlet symbol of ignominy may have defiled Hester\'s public image,
yet it has been a benefit rather than a bane to her soul, for by admitting her
crime to the crowd, her soul is freed from two hells: first, the fiery pit
where she would otherwise go after death, and second, the own personal hell
Hester will create for herself if she had chosen to hide her sin in her heart.
Though it was ordered for Hester to wear the letter, it was still her own choice
to make it in a vivid scarlet, "so fantastically embroidered and illuminated
upon her bosom." Hester chose red as the color of her brand of shame, to
declare to the rest of the townspeople that she is prepared to acknowledge her
sin, instead of denying it; she could have chosen to wear her "A" in a plain and
nondistinct color, to escape the townspeople\'s disdain. By displaying her guilt
however, she is granted the opportunity to face her punishment bravely, thus
through her public humiliation, she achieves freedom from the personal guilt of
not suffering enough for her crimes. Furthermore, "the scarlet letter,
forthwith seemed to scorch into Hester\'s breast, as if it had been red-hot."
The scarlet A\'s glowing embers, scorching they may be, also serve to heal, for
the pain they inflict on Hester enables her to properly atone for her sin; by
devoting this lifetime to repentance and expiation, she would receive relief in
her next life. To the Puritans she is shamed, yet to the heavens she is honored
as a repentant sinner who has returned to the loving arms of her Creator.
Finally, Hester\'s scarlet emblem is found on the outside, while the mark that
her lover Dimmesdale is found in "his inmost heart." Though Hester and
Dimmesdale are both branded with the scarlet "A", there is a world of difference
between their badges of shame, for Hester\'s scarlet token is embroidered in
dazzling gold thread and is displayed for everyone to see, showing that she
hides nothing, while Dimmesdale\'s letter is branded on his chest: hidden from
the public eye, yet with an effect that is more potent than that of the scarlet
token on Hester\'s breast. Indeed, the heat of glowing metal inflicts a far
greater pain than that of needle and thread, the throb of fire against skin is
more potent than a pin on a piece of cloth; though Hester may have to endure the
taunts of the pitiless Puritans, at least, unlike Dimmesdale, she does not have
to endure those of her own creation. Therefore, it can be concluded that Hester
was better off wearing the letter, for by a enduring a lifetime of pain and
agony, she escapes an eternity of unbearable torment.
The scarlet letter restrains Hester\'s passionate nature in her
appearance, transforming her into a colorless and faceless woman, yet her
passion finds another outlet in the deep recesses of her own mind; Hester is
liberated by the scarlet letter since she discovers an intellectual passion as a
release from a dull and monotonous existence. Hester\'s physical appearance may
be one of "marble coldness", yet buried underneath those marble slabs her "newly
emancipated" intellect burns with great fervor. The pure yet hard marble
represents the Hester seen by the people; Solid and dependable, possessing a
serene yet pallid beauty. The vibrance that once dominated her features now
dominates her thoughts, her warm passion this time finding release in the
richness of her brilliant mind. "Hester [imbibes] the spirit" of intellectual
emancipation. Her passion, which once flowed generously in her physical
appearance, is now geared towards the exploration of her mind\'s inner depths. A
dazzling face is replaced by a dazzling mind, as Hester escapes her desolation
in toying with new and fascinating ideas. Driven by