"A" has different interpretations. Do"able" and "angel" belong in these interpretations?The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Yes. In Chapter XIII, Hester, although she is ostracized from much of society, is always "quick to acknowledge her sisterhood" with mankind.  Having suffered so herself, she tenderly administers to the sick and even gives of her money to those more impoverished than she.  So charitable is she and so competent and patient in attending the ill that the community views her symbolic scarlet A in another perspective.  Now, "Elsewhere the token of sin, it was the taper of the sick-chamber"; in fact, Hawthorne writes that Hester is "a Sister or Mercy" and the letter becomes the symbol of her calling. She is so helpful and sympathetic that many people say that her A means "Able."

In the previous chapter (XII) in which the Reverend Dimmesdale stands in the night on the scaffold in an effort to make penance for his sins, Hester and Pearl traverse the path after a vigil for a dying member of the community.  As the minister speaks, a meteor lights up the sky, revealing the minister holding his heart, Hester with her scarlet letter, and Pearl as the link between the two.  The next day, various interpretations of this phenomenon are given; one of them is that the A stands for "angel."  Those who have seen it feel that the good Governor Winthrop, who had died, was made an angel and the heavens "made notice of this."  Hester is indirectly linked to this symbol as she has kept vigil over the governor. 


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