Guilt is a common feeling for everyone. Guilt makes one feel unworthy, and embarrassed for their actions. This feeling stands as a prominent symbol in the novel The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This novel focuses on the Puritans and how they classify and deal with sin. The puritans are a group of people who arrived in America in the early 1600s and settled in Massachusetts Boston. They are religiously inclined and use religion in all aspects of life including the court system. The bible states, "he [that adulteress] destroyeth his own soul"(6.32 Bible). This quote plays an important role in this book because the main characters, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, are adulteress. Using this, Hawthorne can describe the way Puritans deal with sin. Hawthorne's universal belief that guilt endures until penance is made is delineated by the way in which puritans deal with guilt. .
Hester Prynne, a main character, plays the role of a sinner from the beginning of the book. She is characterized as a very strong, independent woman, who bears a beautiful scarlet A on her chest. The Puritan ideals of sin are shown at the beginning of the novel when Hester stands upon the scaffold with her newborn for three hours to be jeered at and ridiculed by the public. The humiliation follows after her release. Even the poorest of the village, whom Hester helps, humiliate her. Hester provides food and uses her talent in embroidery to donate clothes. Although she gives them their essential needs, the poor continue to humiliate her nonetheless. The continued humiliation shows that Puritans value the word of God over everything and that whatever Hester does, she notices that her guilt will not pass until she makes penance.
In addition to the public's humiliation, Hester also receives the punishment of wearing a red scarlet letter A on her chest, which stands for adultery. As beautiful as this symbol is, it "was red-hot with infernal fire" (Hawthorne 82).