Hester and Symbols in the Scarlet Letter
How it works
“The Scarlet Letter” is not so much a consideration of Hester Prynne’s intuitive character as it is an exploration of the strength that shapes her, and the transformations of those strengths effect. Hester is a self-sufficient single mother in one of the bleak most forbidding moments in America’s history. Hester finds a way to support her daughter in a time when women were only presumed to support their husbands. She uses her inherent strength to mold into the meaning of her punishment. Most importantly, she questions the validity of the morals of the community she is surrounded by. Hester’s silence in, “The Scarlet Letter”, is dominated by her interpretation of the symbol of the letter “A”, the symbol of the pearl, as well as Hester’s guiltiness for her sin.
The symbol of the scarlet letter is an important symbol as to why Hester refuses to participate in the culture of the narrative. Originally, the scarlet letter is meant to symbolize shame towards Hester, but; instead, it became a powerful symbol of what Hester would identify as. The letters meaning transforms as time passes throughout the story. It was originally meant to mark Hester as an adulterer; however, the “A” eventually comes to stand for “Able.” “…she felt or fancied, then, that the scarlet letter had endowed her with a new sense. She shuddered to believe, yet could not help believing, that it gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts.” Hester is now able to sympathize with others in a way that she could not before.
How it works
The symbol of the pearl is an important symbol as to why Hester refuses to participate in the culture of the narrative. “Hester’s silence is not simply a show of willfulness, of ‘hardness and obstinacy’, but a deliberate strategy, one which might yield the very real results of ‘tempting’ or ‘compelling’ (Alsop 66). The pearl is a symbol of sin, as she is a direct product of it. Hester compares the pearl to the scarlet letter; as she dresses the pearl in red and gold, the same colors of the scarlet letter. The pearl is an alive version of the scarlet letter, the token of her mother’s adultery. The pearl is what makes Hester’s sin known to the community. Hester has been required to wear constant reminders of her sins.
Hester’s guiltiness for her sin is an important representation as to why Hester is silent, representing her strength in the narrative. Hester’s silence is her version of revenge and how it can contribute to the corruption and paranoia of a strong character such as Hester. It is stated in Hawthorne’s perspective that Hester’s silence can be viewed as a strategy. “In all her intercourse with society, however, there was nothing that made her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came in contact, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she had inhabited another sphere, or communicated with the common nature by other organs than the rest of humankind.” Hester manages to gain the respect of the townspeople because she is helpful and has a lot of power.