What are the effects of the letter on Hester Prynne over the seven year interval in "The Scarlet Letter"?

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ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The effects of the scarlet letter on Hester can be seen by the words the townspeople associated with the letter "A". At first, the "A" stands for adultery, a sin which resulted in the birth of Pearl and Hester's treatment as an outcast in the community. Gradually, she uses her skills and talents, to make clothes for the poor, attends the sick and becomes close to troubled people because they can identify with her. The letter is then associated with the name "Able". After Dimmesdale's death and Hester's return to Boston from England, the letter takes on a new meaning, "Angel". This is because, after taking Pearl to England and seeing her marry, Hester returns to Boston, puts the scarlet letter back on, and continues her charitable work. At the end of her life, she is much respected and admired. Thus, the scarlet letter seems to turn Hester from a prideful, adulteress who stands defiantly on the scaffold in the first scenes of the novel, to a wise, humble and charitable woman who is known for her virtues.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a result of having to wear the scarlet letter, Hester loses all other identity.  Even though the interpretation of the letter changes, Hester is inextricably tied to this symbol, so much so that she feels compelled to return to America after having left it with her daughter Pearl. In America Hester reassumes the wearing of the letter "A."  She, then, herself becomes a mere symbol, a symbol of charity and something to be "sorrowed after," and not a real, whole, human being.  Once a beautiful woman with a vibrant complexion and shining hair, a woman of a passionate nature in love with a man, Hester Pyrnne has become "shadow-like" with "sad eyes."

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The Scarlet Letter

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