(click on the symbolism infographic to download.)
Hester's scarlet letter is a hardworking sign. At various times, it symbolizes adultery, sin, dedication, ability, charity, righteousness, sacredness, and, obviously, grace. Whew! We're exhausted just great deal of thought.
In the beginning, there's no concern: it symbolizes the sin of adultery, and Hester wears it as punishment. But through the beginning, she's not willing to let it dictate the terms of the woman punishment. She's to really make the page, since this is mid-17th-century Colonial America—you want one thing, you make it. You can't simply run out toward Adultery Superstore. And, like an early Martha Stewart, she helps it be beautiful:
Regarding breast of her gown, in fine red cloth surrounded with a more sophisticated embroidery and fantastic flourishes of silver thread, showed up the page 'the.' It was therefore artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, so it had most of the effectation of a last and fitting decoration to the clothing which she wore; and which was of a splendor prior to the taste for the age, but significantly beyond the thing that was permitted by the sumptuary regulations of colony. (2.10)
Now that's a very important thing.
By embroidering the «A» therefore finely and ornately, Hester takes control of her own punishment. She essentially has it. The page showcases her skill and artistry, abilities that enable her in order to make a living as an individual moms and dad in Puritan Boston. These characteristics of strength and independency set the woman apart—as does her love of beauty, since we meet the Puritans as a crowd of «bearded guys, in sad-coloured clothes and grey steeple-crowned caps. Hester's scarlet page is the like girl in debt gown through the Matrix: an indication that there's another means.
As Hester Prynne builds a brand new life, the woman effort and charity end up changing the page's meaning. Some individuals even „refused to interpret the scarlet the by its original signification“ (8.3), meaning that they forget, or choose to forget, that it is emblematic of the woman sin. Rather, they state that the „A“ is short for „Able“—as in, Hester is such an able woman.
In the course of time, the letter also achieves a kind of holiness. It offers „the effect of the cross on a nun's bosom. It imparted to your wearer some sort of sacredness, which enabled the girl to walk firmly amid all peril. Had she dropped among thieves, it could have held her safe“ (13.5). Years later, whenever Hester returns and voluntarily takes up the scarlet page again, it's become, for her and others, emblematic of elegance: „a form of something become sorrowed over, and seemed up with awe, yet with reverence too“ (24.11).
One final thing. (this may get some complicated, so take it sluggish.) Generally speaking, symbols aren't like icons on a map: you cannot decode a text by stating that one thing—say, a prison door—always symbolizes another thing. Yes, often an author are certain to get really explicit. Inside Scarlet Letter, the prison door does indeed act as an „A means B“ type of icon.
But mostly, that is just not just how literature works. As an alternative, specific products, colors, and sources gather associations. So we cannot simply state your scarlet letters means X, because it means a lot of things. And that's why is it interesting; that's why is it well worth composing almost 600 words about. Whenever we could just say „the scarlet page represents adultery,“ then, well, we'd be from job.
However it doesn't, and Hawthorne knows that. He is an intelligent man. He knows about literary works and literary symbols. Therefore, we think something that's going on let me reveal that Hawthorne is warning us not to ever be too literal. The scarlet letter symbolizes those items that we already said, but it also symbolizes the danger of thinking symbolically. If we state that something—like Pearl, and/or letter—is emblematic that represents one thing and absolutely nothing more, then we lose life's complexity. We become like the Puritans, only capable interpret things in one method.
But we're Shmoopers, and—now that people've browse the Scarlet Letter —we know that life and literature are a lot more complex than „A means B.“