Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter deals with many themes, among thoseincluding punishment and death. Utilizing the theme of punishment, thecentral character, Hester Prynne, was forced to wear an embroidered scarletletter on “her bosom” for the rest of her life as a sign of her sin ofadultery. This object; however, has the opposite affect as a punishment andas people of the community begin to forget the original significance of theletter it comes to bear a new meaning, able. In the thirteenth chapter ofthis book, Hawthorne comes out and in the third person states “the scarletletter had not done its office.”Hester has gone beyond the letter of the law and done everything askedof her. She becomes quite a popular seamstress, heralded all over the townof Boston for her work. She herself wears only drab clothing of ordinaryclothing, punishing herself with humility. There is only one piece ofclothing that she is forbidden to make, the wedding vail, it is assumedthat she can not possibly represent the values of a marriage. It would bemost improper to have one who has committed as sin as she had to beinvolved in the marital bonds of another couple. Nevertheless, she does herwork dutifully and completely.
She is emotionately worn out by all the work and penance for her sin.
Midway through the novel she no longer appears as a hidden beauty. Hesternow wears her hair in a cap, and the only effort of considerable worth isthat which she expends in her teachings to Pearl. She has earned the townspeople respect. People now regard the letter as representing the word”able.”As the Reverend Dimmesdale refers to Pearl in his argument forallowing the child to remain with her mother, “God gave Pearl as a blessingand as a reminder of her sin.” The girl herself is a much more considerablepunishment to Hester then the letter “A” is. Pearl is the living symbol ofher sin. All the evil and hate of this story is embodied in this littlegirl. Hawthorne raises the question of how Hester actually sees Pearl byreferring to that “little, laughing image of a fiend” which appears to peepout of Pearl; “Whether it peeped or no, her mother so imagined it.” She isa beautiful charismatic little child and thus a blessing, but the stress ofHester’s environment twists and turns the actions of the girl into evilthings. In that respect she is more of a punishment to Hester then a pieceof cloth she must over her clothing.
On her visit to Governor Bellingham’s house to plead for Pearl’scustody, Hester passes by a suit of armor in which the breast plate somagnifies the letter “A” she wore almost consuming her. In later chapters,after a meteorite appears above Boston, a sexton so wonders if itrepresented “Angel” coming from above. Ironically so, it was a fallen onecoming down so. And so the letter “A” takes on a new meaning once again. InChapter 13, Hester wonders whether it wouldn’t be better if both she andPearl were both dead. The mere fact that Hester can contemplate suicideindicates that “the scarlet letter had not done it’s office”, becausesuicide is an unpardonable sin in the Puritan faith. This fact inconjunction with what the scarlet letter was meant to be and was not aswell as Pearl herself being quite a punishment in herself, discussed in theabove paragraphs clearly supports my belief in the failure of the scarletletter to do its work.