The Scarlet Letter: Punishment or Praise

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When a sin is committed, the consequence does not have a good connotation. Instead it marks the sin and points out the wrong in it. This is exactly what Hester Prynne experiences in The Scarlet Letter. Hester commits adultery while her husband is away and is put on trial for it. The consequence is determined that she will bear scarlet letter A on her chest. Even though the letter was intended to be a punishment, it didnt always symbolize shame. At the initial time of the punishment, Hester Prynne was shamed by society because of her sin. This would be expected of society after they had tried a woman for adultery and determined a consequence. The whole point of the scarlet letter was to put shame on Hesters life. Hawthorne says that the purpose of the letter was that she, for the remainder of her natural life, to wear a mark of shame upon her bosom (54). Even in real life, there is a little shame that goes along with sin. Whether it is people shaming themselves or being shamed by friends and family there is most always a little shame and disgust with sin. In this time of life, shame is not to the extent of a life-long ridicule like Hester was to experience but it is at least enough to get people back on track. So even though societys intent in this punishment of the scarlet letter was to make a bad example of Hester Prynne, the symbolism of this mark of shame was subject to change.

As the story progresses the scarlet letter that had once been such an annoyance to Hester was beginning to become more of a good thing in her life. Since Hester had realized she could not get away from the letter, she decided to embrace it. Instead of spending her life in a corner and letting society control her, she begins to become a regular in the town, always willing to be kind, help, and love on those who needed it. This very way of living began to change to hearts of society. They began to look past the mark of shame and rather see Hester as a great example of how a woman should live their lives; kind, loving, helpful, compassionate. Some even went as far to view the meaning of the letter differently. Saying it was instead to mean 'Able as for Hester was so strong a woman (Hawthorne 134). Soon most all of the town considered Hester in this new way and did not notice the letter anymore. It is truly amazing how much opinions can change over time.

It must be asked though, how can such a hatred for adultery and Hester, who committed it, turn into a love for her over some time? Even though hatred, at least in some movies, is altered from being this deep anger into a sorrow and shame for what the hater did or had committed. This certainly cannot be turned into love? Hawthorne would disagree when he says that hatred, by a gradual and quiet process, is always turned into love (133). This slow and quiet process often includes God and an active relationship with Him. It is very hard to achieve this insane turnaround without God but with Him, it becomes very easy with His grace and abundant mercy that is inside those who are saved through Christ. So through Hester changing the way she views her scarlet letter, in turn changes the way society views it as well. Lastly, as Hesters daughter Pearl grows older, the letter becomes a token to Prynne. Pearl is the light that was always in Hesters life even in the darkest times. She was always there for her mother when she needed it. Through this, Hester sees Pearl as a symbol of hope and promise. Since her sin was the reason Pearl is alive, it eases the pain of being adulterous. And since the scarlet letter proves Pearls existence, Hester ends up considering the scarlet letter to symbolize Pearl and all the hope she brings to Prynnes life. Hawthorne writes Pearl was the gem on her mothers bosom (187). This is the last change in the symbolism of the scarlet letter but it is the one that Hester enjoys the most because Pearl is more important to her than what society would think of her, good or bad.

In conclusion, the initial meaning of the letter A on Hesters bosom did not remain the same throughout the story. As it was intended, it started out as a mark of shame and disgust but it did not stay that way. Hester soon realizes she cannot get away from the letter so instead she embraces it. She becomes a very kind and loving woman to the society around her. This in turn changed the hearts of the people and posed a new meaning of the letter to be Able. However once again, as Pearl grows older, the symbolism changes again. Since the scarlet letter represents Pearls existence Hester considers it to symbolize Pearl herself and the hope she brings to Hesters life. All of these changes show people that the way something is intended is not always how it ends up. Hatred can be turned to love and sin can change someones life for the better. However none of this is possible without the presence of God in peoples lives. His love, mercy, and grace is the only thing that has the power to change a life and the question is, has it changed yours?

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The Scarlet Letter: Punishment or Praise. (2019, May 08). Retrieved March 5, 2024 , from

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