The scarlet letter is the most vivid symbol of the novel, after all the book is named after it. Hester has to wear the letter and it serves as a multiple symbol. There is no doubt, that at the beginning it represents her sin, Adultery. Her husband was gone for two years and she just gave birth to a child. Clearly, she had an affair with another man, whose name she keeps secret.
At different times, this symbol also represents sin, righteousness, hard work, charity and grace. Although at first it has a shameful meaning, Hester does not let it dictate the conditions of her punishment. She has to make the letter herself and she makes it beautifully. It is done very artistically, as she makes it of a fine red cloth with embroidery. In such a way, she takes control over her punishment, and does not let it humiliate her. This letter is a proof of her talent and mastery; it shows that she has good sewing skills which help her earn her living as a single mother.
Being a hardworking and noble woman, she manages to change the meaning of the letter. People are reluctant to interpret it as a sign of her sin, but rather consider it a sign of her abilities, and say that A stands for Able. With the course of time, the same symbol which signified adultery, transforms into something holy. It resembles the cross on the nun’s chest that would protect its bearer from everything. The letter gives Hester some kind of a shield.
Another significant symbol in the story is a prison door. It represents the harsh justice of Puritans. This door is made of iron, studded with iron spikes and looks very old and rusty. It never knew a youthful era, and although it was made not so long ago, it is already covered in weather stains, dirt, and other signs of age. However, the author also describes a rosebush, something rather tender in comparison to the iron prison door. The bush represents forgiveness and mercy. Since the prison is always associated with darkness and sin, a wild rosebush, growing in such an unusual place, gives hope and represents God’s grace. Hawthorne describes these polar symbols at the beginning of the story and gives a hint to the readers that such issues of punishment versus forgiveness and judgment versus mercy will play a great role in the novel.