I love The Scarlet Letter, but I surprised to find out that I did not even know what it was supposed to represent. Its significance seemed to change throughout the book. Is there one central symbol the brooch was supposed to symbolize, or did it have its own symbolic character arc?

  • 1
    i thought it meant "Adulterer," but it's been so long since I've read it that I don't really remember.
    – DForck42
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 14:11
  • @DForck42 It does in the context of the story, but it also represented various things through out the story. The one I am sure of is the mark of an Outcast. Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 14:19
  • It definitely means "adultery" at first. This is a serious sin in Puritan New England. But as @Riker's fine answer points out, it comes to be regarded as a badge of honor later on in the novel. This open proclamation of her sin allows her to lead a happier life, in the long run, than Rev. Dimmesdale, whose hidden past eats away at him. I suppose this shows the value of confession.
    – ktm5124
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 18:54

1 Answer 1


The scarlet letter has many meanings in the context of the story.

In the beginning, it represented a sin and crime committed. As the story (and Hester) move on though, it becomes a symbol to be proud of (at least in Hester's mind):

On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter 'A.' It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.

The Scarlet Letter, Chapter II

As time passes, the letter changes in meaning. Some people "refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification". The A comes to mean "able" in their minds. (Chapter XII)

Eventually, the letter becomes somewhat sacred:

[it has] the effect of the cross on a nun's bosom. It imparted to the wearer a kind of sacredness, which enabled her to walk securely amid all peril. Had she fallen among thieves, it would have kept her safe.

The Scarlet Letter, Chapter XIII

In short, the letter started as a badge of sin, but due to Hester's actions later it became something, if not to be proud of, not to be ashamed of.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.