what is significant about the description of the letter found by the narrator

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the section titled "The Custom House" in the beginning of the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, the narrator tells us that he came about the old scarlet letter, and it is significant that it immediately draws so much attention to itself, despite of its simple, dirty, dusty characteristics.

But the object that most drew my attention, to the mysterious package, was a certain affair of fine red cloth, much worn and faded. There were traces about it of gold embroidery, which, however, was greatly frayed and defaced; so that none, or very little, of the glitter was left.

Not only does this simplistic object attract attention, but it is also significant that this token of shame, which once destroyed and re-built someone's life forever, is in such a poor condition: Old, worn-out, showing its vulnerability and capacity to deteriorate. The scarlet letter loses all of its significance with this description. No longer does it haunt the life of Hester, nor does it give power to the hypocritical society of New England over anyone.

It is significant because it shows that things are only as worthy as we make them. They lose value when societies change and morals change. The scarlet letter, from the start, was nothing but a piece of junk with overrated, dangerous, and unnecessary value.

This rag of scarlet cloth,—for time, and wear, and a sacrilegious moth, had reduced it to little other than a rag,—on careful examination, assumed the shape of a letter. It was the capital letter A.
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The Scarlet Letter

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