In the Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the use of symbols highlights the similarities and differences between the Puritans and today's society. These differences are apparent in the type of punishment used then and now. The many of the symbols in this book deal with sin, punishment and redemption. Hawthorne uses symbols to represent a forgiving nature, a punishment for a sinful act, and as living reminders of human foibles. The symbols used in this book are the scarlet letter, Pearl, and the rosebush next to the rusted prison door. .
The scarlet letter was a stigma worn by someone who had committed a sinful act many Puritan settlements. The Puritans believed that public humiliation was a just punishment for these offenders. Hester was forced to wear the letter "A" on her chest for the rest of her life, for having an affair with an unknown man, even though she and others believed her husband was long dead from a shipwreck. The letter was originally intended be a symbol of great sin, but after some time had passed it began to stand for "Able." From the very beginning, the readers could see the significance of the letter because of Hawthorne's description: " that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell- (p. 54) As the Puritans tried to disgrace Hester, she turned the symbol around into something special. And as time went by, her efforts proved to be worthwhile. This stigma was thought to be something great by those who were unfamiliar with Puritanical ways of punishment. Both the governor's servant, and the Native Americans at the Election Day pageant, thought it was a mark of significant importance and status. In due time, the letter became just that. When Hester returned to the community from England, she retrieved the letter and put it back on. By then, the letter stood for "Able" and Hester was a person of great significance it the town, and gave many young women advice on all sorts of issues.