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In The Scarlet Letter, what is the meaning of interpreting the letter "A" as "Abel"? ...

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kareemoo | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted May 23, 2013 at 8:42 PM via web

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In The Scarlet Letter, what is the meaning of interpreting the letter "A" as "Abel"?  Is it as in ability , or "Abel" as in "Cain and Abel," so as Hester turns from an offender to a victim like "Abel" ?

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 24, 2013 at 1:53 AM (Answer #1)

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Chapter XIII of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, which is subtitled "Another View of Hester", shows the reader Hester's overall impact in her community despite of the symbol of shame that the letter is meant to represent.

We find that Hester has given up on her former self. The passion and the ravishing beauty that once glowed in her semblance has been substituted with a look that reflects a return to her original Puritan rules. In fact, she is more Puritan at this point that the villagers who, at times, still bully her even years after her "sin" was made public.

Now, Hester hides her hair under a bonnet, wears demure clothing, and there is no sign of the once-lustrous dark hair that impressed so many. Her life is now subdued to the service of others, to caring for those who are needy and, in not so many words, to pay back to the society that once condemned her. She does not do this as community service, though- she does it because, in reality, she has a much bigger and sincere heart than all of the villagers (including Dimmesdale himself) altogether.

As a result, the villagers (not all, but in the majority) start seeing Hester under a different light.

She was so helpful, with so much power to aid and to sympathize, that many refused to recognize the A for its original meaning. They said that it stood for “able,” so strong a woman was Hester Prynne.

Therefore, the meaning of the "A" stood for "able", and not Abel, the brother of Cain.


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kareemoo | Student , Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted May 24, 2013 at 7:19 AM (Answer #2)

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I am sorry, but even in the text that you have refered to, it is "Abel" and not able. So am I missing something? or this is how "able" was written at that time?

"The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her,—so much power to do, and power to sympathise,—that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Abel; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength."


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