The Scarlet Letter

Significance of Names in The Scarlet Letter

Why does Hawthorne give Hester Prynne the name Hester? Hawthorne himself, as is well known, changed his family name from Hathorne, to distance himself from those Puritan ancestors whose achievements and excesses haunted his fiction. The Scarlet Letter tells of Roger Prynne's reinvention of himself by an act of naming: when he finds his wife Hester in disgrace in the new world he adopts the name Chillingworth. Hester names Pearl with reference to the gospel of Matthew: "But she named the infant 'Pearl,' as being of great price, - purchased with all she had, - her mother's only treasure!" (1:89). (1) The romance's central symbol, on the other hand, the scarlet letter A, resists the sort of hermeneutic rigidity that naming entails. As an initial letter, or simply as an initial, the A notoriously hints at all sorts of names while claiming none. As a great orchestrator of meanings, Hawthorne is aware that names are full and even overfull of meanings, and he could in no way be said to arrive at his characters' names casually. It is surprising, then, that critics of Hawthorne have not carefully considered the question of Hester's name.

The multiplicity of biblical intertexts may reflect...

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