The Scarlet Letter , written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a novel set in seventeenth century Boston. The main character of The Scarlet Letter is Hester Prynne who has an illegitimate daughter, Pearl . The father of Pearl, Roger Chillingworth , becomes a major antagonist in The Scarlet Letter . The book also features a Puritan community with a strict and grim lifestyle. The scarlet letter Hester wears on her chest is a symbol that goes through The Scarlet Letter representing different things at different times to various characters in The Scarlet Letter .
The book ends with Hester leaving Boston to live out the remainder of her life in Europe. The symbolism of The Scarlet Letter begins with the main character, Hester Prynne’s clothing choice. Hester Prynne was found guilty for adultery and made to stand on the scaffold while construction workers finished building The Gallows where she would be flogged and then hanged for adultery and crimes against God and the church via adulterous acts without repentance (Hawthorne).
While waiting for people to come to see her punishment, Hester picked up a length of red cloth from the scaffold floor to use as material for her prison garb. The Puritans around Hester then stated that she was being given clothing that is scarlet, representing sin and shame . The color selection was not arbitrary because The Book of Revelation states that “those who are destined to drink the wine of God’s wrath, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his anger, will be wearing red clothing” (Bible Gateway).
The symbol becomes more significant when it is mentioned in The Scarlet Letter that Hester’s husband had died seven years before the main events of The Scarlet Letter take place. Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale , who would become involved with Hester outside marriage at some point prior to The Scarlet Letter , would later comment that The Scarlet Letter made him feel like he had been “dyed in a scarlet hue of sin” (Hawthorne). The symbol changes to represent Pearl’s paternity when Hester and Dimmesdale discuss The Scarlet Letter while sitting on The Enchanted Knoll .
The Enchanted Knoll is where The Scarlet Letter takes place over the course of approximately two months, and also where the majority of The Scarlet Letter takes place. The dialogue between Hester and Dimmesdale while sitting on The Enchanted Knoll states that Pearl “shall hereafter be known as ‘Pearl, the daughter of Hester Prynne'” (Hawthorne) and goes on to say that Pearl will never know her father’s identity, Pearl will only know The Scarlet Letter and be able to read it without knowing her father’s name.
The symbol changes once again when The Puritans in The Scarlet Letter burn the scaffold that Hester stood upon for The Scarlet Letter punishment . The point at which The Puritans burned down The Gallows , The Scarlet Letter stops being a representation of shame and becomes a representation of persecution from The Puritanical community against sinners, adulterers, and non-believers in God outside of their church. The book ends with Hester leaving Boston to live out the remainder of her life in Europe with the man who accepted responsibility as Pearl’s true father by marrying Hester, Roger Chillingworth .
Hester is willing to give up The Scarlet Letter in order to be with the man she loves, who also accepted The Scarlet Letter as his own cross to bear. The last mention of The Scarlet Letter in The Scarlet Letter is when Hester was pregnant and Chillingworth asks her if he could see The Scarlet Letter once more before Pearl would be able to read it and know what The Scarlet Letter was about. Hester refuses and tells him that The Scarlet Letter will burn or fade away someday and that it does not matter because of how much time has gone by since The Scarlet Letter punishment occurred.
The symbol for The Scarlett Letter changes several times throughout The Scarlett Leter . When Nathaniel Hawthorne began writing The Scarlett Letter, he wanted the story to deal with sin, shame , and guilt . The Scarlet Letter represents Hester Prynne, The Puritanical society of The New World, which was extremely judgmental, The Scarlet Letter itself, Pearl’s paternity , what The Scarlet Letter does to people who are exposed to it as well as the ones wearing it, and persecution against sinners by The Puritans.