The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne contains abundant symbolism, which is used to unify the novel and add deeper meaning. Although the actual "A" is the most obvious symbol, there are several others which have great importance as well.
The most important symbol in the novel is the scarlet letter, which affects each character in a different way. The characters who are affected by the letter are Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth, Pearl, and Hester Prynne (Schneider). The scarlet letter is a sign by which the colonial authority seeks to fix the crime of adultery and the criminal, Hester Prynne. The "A" both indicates, yet hinders the Puritan community's authority over Hester's identity. As the novel progresses, the letter changes meaning from adultery to ability, in the eyes of the people around her. Through the scarlet letter, Hester become a sympathetic heroine, and the Puritan society becomes not only bigoted and joyless, but essentially evil. (Bloom 13-14, 97, 100).
The person that is affected most by the scarlet letter is Hester Prynne, for many very obvious reasons. It is a large part of her daily life, and each of her actions is watched very closely by the community. Because of her public shame and constant ridicule, Hester becomes an outcast to society. Her love for Arthur Dimmesdale, their minister, and the creation of Pearl, her daughter, has forced her to live in seclusion. The only times she even comes into the city is to sell her very well-crafted clothing. This in turn causes the Puritan view of her letter "A" to change from adultery to ability. (Hawthorne; Schneider).
Arthur Dimmesdale is as much responsible for the creation of the scarlet letter as Hester. Their illicit love has had a different effect him because he failed to admit to his adulterous actions. His inability to release his guilt has given him an emotional, spiritual, and physical burden, which he ultimately cannot overcome.