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Sin, humility and struggle are all words that come to mind when thinking of the letters worn in public to punish sinners in the Puritan society. The scarlet letter Hester Prynne wears in the novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne has an impact on most of the characters throughout the book. Their struggles as a result of the scarlet letter give a better understanding for the characters themselves. Whether the letter is seen as a literal or figurative symbol it still has a lasting affect on the characters of Hester Prynne, Pearl and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. Without its impact and recurring symbolism what else could the novel be called?

The scarlet ‘A’, which stands for Adultery, Hester Prynne wears as a result of her sin has the greatest impact on her life. While the letter was originally meant to humiliate and punish her for the sin she committed, it ends up having a positive outcome for her. Shortly after she is forced to wear the letter, she was the main subject of gossip between the members of her community. In the beginning of the novel the townspeople see Hester as evil. One woman in the town speaks ill of her saying, “’This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die.’” The strict Puritan society does not take kindly to those with sins as great at Hesters’. Going further into the novel the townspeople begin to accept Hester as a kind, charitable person. They now say the ‘A’ on her chest stands for ‘Able’ instead of adultery. The townspeople decided this new interpretation because, “so strong is Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength.” At the Election Day Procession near the end of the novel many Native Americans come to town. They see the letter on Hester’s dress and think that it is a positive symbol. They decided that the wearer of this “brilliantly embroidered badge must needs be a personage of high dignity of her people.” This questions whether or not the Puritan’s system of punishment really does justice. Although Hester feels that this “red-hot brand” has withered the “light and graceful foliage of her character”, the letter ended up having a positive outcome for her in many ways. Another result of Hester’s sin is her daughter Pearl.

The character of Pearl, along with the scarlet letter, is a reminder of Hester’s sin. Her mother’s scarlet letter also affected her life. Ever since Pearl was born she has always seen her mother with the scarlet letter on her chest. She constantly touches the letter and asks Hester what it means. When they are in the forest to meet Dimmesdale, Hester removes the letter from her dress as an action of newfound freedom. Pearl then comes back to find the letter not where she has always seen it and will not approach her loving mother. After Hester fastens the letter and asks Pearl to come to her she agrees saying, “Now thou art my mother indeed!” Pearl cannot picture her mother any other way. The letter has jaded her into thinking that the ‘A’ is a part of her mother. Another time Pearl makes a reference to the letter is when they are at the beach. She makes an ‘A’ out of bright green seaweed and puts it on her dress. This action is very ironic because the bright green is the color of life, which sharply contrasts the red, which is the color of the devil. While in the forest Pearl speaks to her mother about the Black Man, she says, “the old dame said that this scarlet letter was the Black Man’s mark on thee.” Not many children talk like this, but Pearl does because her mother’s scarlet letter has corrupted her mind. Many of the townspeople refer to Pearl as the devil’s child because of the sin her mother committed.

Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale also wears a scarlet ‘A’, but he hides his and takes full responsibility for his sin in private. He punishes himself for not confessing his actions. He becomes weak and worn. Thoughts run through Dimmesdale’s mind constantly and they drive him crazy. The thoughts lead him to want to do very malicious things to children and the townspeople who trust him as an authority figure. He doesn’t understand why he has these mad thoughts. He asks himself, “Did I make a contract with him in the forest, and sign it with my blood?” When he finally admits at the Election Day Procession that he is the other person guilty of this sin he crushes all chance of a life free of guilt and pressure. He reveals his scarlet letter for everyone to see, and accepts his child into his heart. Although he was now free of the pain he was causing himself by not confessing his future life with Hester was now shattered. He tells her they cannot be together because of “The law we broke! � the sin here so awfully revealed!” Their relationship cannot continue because God cannot be that good to them. He felt that it would not be fair if they were to live a happy life because they must always deal with the consequences of their actions.

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The scarlet ‘A’ worn by Hester and Dimmesdale has an impact on just about every character throughout the novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Although some effects may be literal, most are taken in a figurative sense. By gaining knowledge of the true meaning of the letter and the significance it has for each individual character it is understood why Hawthorne used the detail he did to get his point across to readers. Without the scarlet letter affecting each character they would not be completely understood.

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