How did the scarlet letter appear when it was reflected in the polish breast plate of the suit of armor? What was the significance of this?

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cmcqueeney's profile pic

cmcqueeney | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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The imagery of this scene vividly expresses the conflicts Hester deals with throughout this novel. The person of Hester Prynne - her character, passion, and womanhood - is hidden behind the scarlet letter she must wear. She becomes a shell of the person she once was and is ultimately defined by the letter.
In addition, this scene also paints the ever-present conflict Hester has with little Pearl. Pearl's obsession with the scarlet letter links her to Hester in an inescapable and symbolic way while Pearl's reactions to the letter cause her to seem like something apart from Hester, sent to torture her for her sin.

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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This occurs in Chapter VII, "The Governor's Hall." Pearl, Hester's daughter, sees the letter A greatly exaggerated and Hester notices Pearl's face reflected within the letter. She looks like a little "imp." The signficance is that Hester feels absolutely defined by this misshapen representation of herself, and indeed she is viewed as such. Seeing Pearl in this way is significant too, because she sees what she knows is there in her troubled child: a mischevious elf-like creature that is not always benevolent and at times seems to want to consume and destroy her.

Here is the scene:

"Mother," cried she, "I see you here. Look! Look!"

Hester looked, by way of humoring the child; and she saw that, owing to the peculiar effect of this convex mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance. In truth, she semed absolutely hidden behind it. Pearl pointed upward, also, at a similar picture in the headpiece; smiling at her mother, with the elfish intelligence that was so familiar an expression on her small physiognomy. That look of naughty merrirment was likewise reflected in the mirror, with so much breadth and intensity of effect, that it made Hester Prynne feel as if it could not be the image of her own child, but of an imp who was seeking to mold itself into Pearl's shape."

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ana36's profile pic

ana36 | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Honors

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The scene with Pearl and the armor in the Governor’s Hall shows Hester’s ever present conflict with Pearl. Pearl's fascination with the scarlet letter links her to her mother in an inevitable way, while her reactions to the letter cause her to look like something sent to torture Hester for her sin, “She is my happiness!—she is my torture, none the less!” Pearl sees the letter A exaggerated and Hester notices Pearl's face reflected within the letter and thinks that she looks like a little devil.  The significance is that Hester feels absolutely defined by this wrong representation of herself, of a whore and a sinner. Seeing Pearl in this way is significant also, because she sees what she knows is there in her troubled child: a mischievous elf-like creature that is not always benevolent but that at times seems like she wants to consume and destroy her.

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