The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter Symbol Analysis

The Scarlet Letter Symbol Icon
The Puritans mean for the scarlet letter to be a symbol of Hester's shame. But the narrator describes the letter as a "mystic symbol" that means many things. The letter does represent Hester Prynne's adultery, but as she grows and changes in the novel, the letter's symbolism evolves as well. For example, it comes to mean "able" when she becomes a successful seamstress, and Dimmesdale refers to Hester twice as "angel," giving the letter yet another meaning. In the end, the letter comes to symbolize Hester's triumph over the very forces that meant to punish her.
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The Scarlet Letter Symbol Timeline in The Scarlet Letter

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Scarlet Letter appears in The Scarlet Letter. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Custom House
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...storage area of the Custom House. The package contained a piece of fabric with a red letter "A" affixed to it along with several pages explaining the history of the letter. The... (full context)
Chapter 2
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On her chest Hester wears a scarlet letter "A," affixed with beautiful embroidery that strikes some women in the crowd as inappropriate. The... (full context)
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As the crowd stares at Hester, the crowd focuses on the scarlet letter , which transfixes everyone. The letter sets Hester apart, enclosing her in "a sphere by... (full context)
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...the present. She looks out at the menacing crowd assembled before her. Hester touches the scarlet letter and squeezes her baby, Pearl, so tightly that Pearl cries. Hester then realizes that the... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...the source of her alienation: sin. Hester is determined to keep the meaning of the scarlet letter a secret from Pearl. (full context)
Chapter 6
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...Hester, Pearl is painfully aware of her isolation. She has an innate sense that Hester's scarlet letter is linked to their rejection by society. She pleads with her mother to explain the... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...the breastplate of a suit of armor: Hester appears to be completely hidden behind the scarlet letter . Hester seems to feel Pearl's distance as they gaze in the mirror, and she... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...can justify keeping Pearl. Hester says she'll teach Pearl what she's learned from wearing the scarlet letter . The Governor says that the letter is her badge of shame. (full context)
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...again. He points out that Hester even dresses Pearl in red, likening her to the scarlet letter . (full context)
Chapter 10
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...cemetery outside Dimmesdale's home. Pearl is playing on the headstones and attaching burrs to Hester's scarlet letter . (full context)
Chapter 13
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...passed since Pearl's birth. Hester has become more accepted by the community, and the embroidered scarlet letter has evolved into a "symbol of her calling," not just her sin. (full context)
Chapter 14
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...the sea, he tells her the council has recently discussed allowing her to remove the scarlet letter from her chest. She says the letter should stay until she's worthy of its removal. (full context)
Chapter 15
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...letter "A" on her own chest. She pleads with Hester to tell her what the scarlet letter means, and asks if Hester wears it for the same reason Dimmesdale covers his heart... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...story and she responds that an old woman told her the Black Man put the scarlet letter on her mother. Eager to settle the matter, Hester confirms the false story of the... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the forest and hold hands. Dimmesdale says life with a scarlet letter would be preferable to his life of deception, since Hester is the only person with... (full context)
Chapter 18
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...Hester. He calls her his "angel" and says he's been renewed. Hester flings away her scarlet letter and feels an enormous swell of relief. (full context)
Chapter 19
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...to her parents when they call. Hester attributes her reluctance to the absence of the scarlet letter on her bosom. Hester puts the letter back on and Pearl accepts her. (full context)
Chapter 22
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...Black Man, and that both Hester and Dimmesdale are such servants. Hibbins also compares Hester's scarlet letter to Dimmesdale's habit of covering his heart. (full context)
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Some Indians standing in the gathered crowd think Hester's scarlet letter is a mark of distinction. (full context)
Chapter 23
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...Hester. As Chillingworth looks on in despair, Dimmesdale tears away his clothing to reveal a scarlet letter carved into his breast. (full context)
Chapter 24
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People came up with various explanations for the origin of Dimmesdale's scarlet letter . Some thought Dimmesdale carved it himself, as a penance. Others that Chillingworth, through magic... (full context)
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...in Boston. She lived there for many years before her death and still wore the scarlet letter , which had taken on its own legend over time. She was buried next to... (full context)