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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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Pearl, floated by wealth, sails to Europe where she marries well. She is one of the first American heiresses to trade money for a title. In later centuries, especially Hawthorne's own, it became common practice for the daughters of American millionaires to save the noble houses of Europe with hefty infusions of dollars. We can imagine how this girl, who never minded her manners even in Boston, fared in the far more formal European courts.

Having seen Pearl nicely settled, Hester returns to New England where she resumes the scarlet letter. Now, we can easily understand why Hester leaves a beloved daughter abroad and comes home. Boston is the place where her life has been the fullest-where she has loved Dimmesdale, lost him, and buried him.

But why, once rid of the scarlet letter, does she take up the hated token and wear it again, when nobody tells her to? (Interesting that she never pitched it into the sea, as she promised to.) Does Hester wear the letter now in acceptance of self-restraint, in a long-delayed affirmation of society's sentence upon her?

Maybe. Maybe not.


We have seen Hester once before in the novel clutch the scarlet letter to herself with a fierce mixture of despair and pride. (Way back in the market-place, she told the magistrates that they would never take the letter from her.) Hester's gesture is quieter now, but its meaning may be much the same. The scarlet letter is the symbol of Hester's difference from all the people around her. It is a sign not only of sin but of freedom. The letter marks Hester as one of life's wounded, but it also says, to those who have eyes to see, that here is someone who has dared to live passionately, beyond the limits of society's sad little rules.

When Hester dies, she is buried beside Dimmesdale, under a tombstone that serves for both graves. On the tombstone, the letter A is engraved like a heraldic device. So much life and suffering have gone into the symbol that the sign of adultery has become a sign of nobility. Hester has earned her coat of arms.

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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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