In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, what is the significance of the scarlet letter A which is embroidered on Hester's gown?

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The letter "A" stands for adultery, yet Hester wears it with a quiet dignity and a sense of defiance. There was no specification as to the size the letter had to be , just that she must wear it for the rest of her life. Yet, Hester creates one that covers her chest, almost as if it is her armor that shields her from the public humiliation she must endure.

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There is a lot of significance attached to the scarlet letter.  Initially, Hester is forced to wear it as punishment for committing adultery, but throughout the novel, the letter almost takes on a life of its own, and its significance changes. The trial of wearing the letter over a period of time strips Hester of her womanly features.  In chapter 18, Hester removes the letter for a brief period of time, and when she does so, the narrator tells us that her womanly beauty returns.  When she puts the letter back on, she loses that beauty.

Because of Hester's actions throughout the novel, the letter also changes in meaning.  Initially, it stands for adultery, but during the course of the novel, Hester helps so many people in a quiet and humble manner that the townspeople begin to say that the letter means 'Able'.

The letter serves as Hester's punishment, but even when she is allowed to remove it she refuses, because it has become a part of her.  It has humbled her, punished her, and changed her. 

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The community means the "A" in The Scarlet Letter to mean "adulterer." Making Hester wear it is a way of marking her as a sinner and lawbreaker, of marking her as an outsider, and of showing the community's shared morality. Eventually, though, it comes to mean "able."

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