Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, "The Scarlet Letter" identifies a symbol that is meant as a punishment and an outward display of sin, guilt, shame and disgrace. Hester Prynne is publicly exposed and punished for her sin of adultery, evidenced by the newborn baby girl she carries as she is led out of the prison amidst the townspeople who surround her with their unforgiving and intolerant stares. She is forced to sew a scarlet-colored letter on the front of her dress in plain view of anyone who might encounter her. The letter "A" stood for adultery and was a punishment meant to degrade, humiliate and shame the young woman compelled to wear it. However, as time goes on, this same symbol becomes to Hester more than something she wears on her person externally. The letter transforms Hester internally and shifts from a symbol of stigma and dishonor to one of strength and character. Hester derives her sense of self-identity from the Scarlet Letter.
Hester Prynne is a young woman who married a much older man and was sent to a foreign country without the companionship of her husband. Early adulthood is a time when we begin to form an identity that is unique. We become more independent, separate from our families of origin, and begin to define our own individuality. The story suggests Hester was a strong-willed, impetuous girl. Nathaniel Hawthorne does not tell us many details of Hester's early childhood or how she came to marry Roger Chillingworth. Did his advantage in years give him an upper hand in his relationship with Hester? Did she go directly from a dependent relationship with her mother and father to a marriage of subordination with Roger? .
Clearly something was lacking in Hester's marriage to Roger. The fact that she chooses to engage in a sexual relationship with another man exposes a weakness in her relationship with Roger. Perhaps this was Hester's first experience with absolute independence.