Revealing the Cognitive Mechanism in the Semantic Evolution of Hester’s Scarlet Letter “A”

Qiyun Zhang


The letter “A” in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter, has rich symbolic meanings. This paper intends to reveal the mysterious mechanism working behind the development of the different symbolic meanings of “A” on Hester’s. In other words, this paper intends to explore the mastery of how the letter “A” acquires different symbolic meanings by applying a cognitive approach. From the perspective of category, the letter “A” carried by Hester undergoes an evolution from the derogatory category Adultery to the transitional category such as Agony, and then to the final commendatory category such as Angel. During the process of evolution, the symbolic meaning of “A” changes from Adultery to Alone, Agony to Art, Amazon, Able, Admirable, and Angel. Two linguistic theories are required to reveal the semantic evolution of the letter “A”, that is, the prototype theory and the conceptual blending theory. There are two major factors contributing to the semantic evolution of “A”, one is the characteristics of the letter “A” itself, the other is Hester herself.

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Asian Social Science   ISSN 1911-2017 (Print)   ISSN 1911-2025 (Online)    Email: 

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