Rather than bringing torture to Hester, it eventually becomes a symbol to some people meaning “able.” In chapter 13, Hawthorne writes, “They said that it meant ‘Able’; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength.” A few pages later, Hawthorne writes, “The scarlet letter had not done its office.” The scarlet letter was meant as a punishment for Hester, and yet here we see that it hasn’t punished Hester.
Then, in chapter 18, Hawthorne writes, “Thus, we seem to see that, as regarded Hester Prynne, the whole seven years of outlaw and ignominy had been little other than a preparation for this very hour.” Throughout the book, there are various meanings to the scarlet letter.
During the first few years of Hester’s punishment, the letter was a daily reminder of shame.
In chapter five, Hawthorne writes,, “…Hester Prynne had always this dreadful agony in feeling a human eye upon the token; the spot never grew callous; it seemed, on the contrary, to grow more sensitive with daily torture.” As the story unfolds, though, this letter comes to mean other things to Hester and the people.
It means different things to different people – a sign of wealth to the butler, curiosity for Pearl, guilt for Dimmesdale, rebelliousness, revenge or motivation for Chillingworth, and betrayal of one’s spouse, to name a few.
The symbolic meaning behind the scarlet letter shifts as the novel progresses.Symbolism is traditionally a sign or token of something.In the matter of literature, the definition of the literary device, symbolism, is more complicated. The main symbol of The Scarlet Letter is the red "A" that Hester Prynne was sentenced to wear on her chest.With that symbol comes the stares and whispers from all who set their eyes upon her.One has no choice but to think that the letter holds a different symbolic meaning for every character of the book.At the start of the novel, the scarlet letter is a symbol of adultery.Hester is forced to wear the symbol as a form of punishment for her loose behavior.When she used her skills to decorate the "A", things only got worse.People felt that she was trying to show off the fact that she was an adulteress, or that she was proud to be.When Hester Prynne became pregnant during the absence of her husband she was accused and convicted of adultery.Her sentence was to wear a scarlet letter "A" on her bosom to let everyone know that she was an adulteress, forevermore.