What is the relationship between the scarlet letter and Hester's identity?

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brendawm eNotes educator| Certified Educator
The relationship between the Scarlet Letter and Hester's identity is one of great complexity.  The Scarlet Letter is meant to be a symbol of shame to Hester; however, it becomes a powerful symbol of identity for her. Upon Hester’s release, though not physically imprisoned, she is not allowed to remove the Scarlet Letter from her chest and resume a normal life. She accepts her punishment and serves her sentence with as much dignity and determination as she can muster, rather than allow others to determine it for her. Hester feels that removing the letter or running away would only admit that society controls her life and that the mark is something she desires to escape.  Instead of allowing this to happen, Hester reworks the Scarlet Letter into a noticeable symbol to represent her own experiences and character, the truth of what Hester has learned, the individuality and strength are gained by quiet self-assertion, meaning that her past sins are part of who she is.  Because her sins are a part of who she is, Hester integrates them into her life. 
rodnets | Student

For Hester, to remove the scarlet letter would be to acknowledge the power it has in determining who she is. The letter would prove to have successfully restricted her if she were to become a different person in its absence. Hester chooses to continue to wear the letter because she is determined to transform its meaning through her actions and her own self-perception—she wants to be the one who controls its meaning. Society tries to reclaim the letter’s symbolism by deciding that the “A” stands for “Able,” but Hester resists this interpretation. The letter symbolizes her own past deed and her own past decisions, and she is the one who will determine the meaning of those events. Upon her return from Europe at the novel’s end, Hester has gained control over both her personal and her public identities. She has made herself into a symbol of feminine repression and charitable ideals, and she stands as a self-appointed reminder of the evils society can commit.

revolution | Student

The scarlet letter represent the various themes of adultery, penance and penitence, and it also brings about the suffering and hardship, the loneliness that she had to endured in the book. It was supposed to signify the gravity of her hideous crimes but it proves to be a powerful sign of identity of her own true self. After her release from prison, she was not allowed to remove the Scarlet letter from her body and resumes her normal life, showing that she stills have to pay for her actions and consequences would still be there. This letter function as a physical reminder the stark truth of Hester's affair with Dimmesdale. Hester determined that her own identity should be controlled by her only rather than let others push and manipulate her around. She felt that if she had run away or remove the scarlet letter, she would be shown as a weakling and as a acknowledgement of the society's control over her life. This scarlet letter symbolises her entire life, her own experiences and character about who is really her, her inner and outer being. Her past crime is part of her, to denying what she had already done is to deny part of herself, as the sin is what her true self is and will always be.

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The Scarlet Letter

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