In The Scarlet Letter how is social change as a source of cultural renewal shown?

1 Answer | Add Yours

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

One way in which this is shown is through the changing ways in which the Puritan community view Hester Prynne, her misdemeanour, and in particular the scarlet letter. It is key to realise that Hester bears the scarlet letter as a symbol of public shame and sin. It is a letter that typifies the way in which she is treated and how Puritans in that period viewed public and sexual sin. However, if we examine its significance in the novel, and in particular compare how the letter is viewed as a symbol at the beginning of the novel with how it is viewed at the end of the story, we see a massive difference:

...the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world's scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with reverence too.

The change in how the scarlet letter was perceived is linked with the change in Puritan society and its understanding and treatment of sin and shame. Hawthorne shows that all cultures and communties change and differ over time as ideas and perspectives change, and he pays particular attention to the way in which the meaning we give a particular item shifts and changes too. The Puritan society is shown to be renewed through the influence of Hester Prynne and its changing attitude towards her and this is illustrated by how they view the letter that they emblazoned on to her bosom so long ago.


We’ve answered 317,537 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question