The Scarlet Letter
Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter
Since the beginning of civilization, mankind has set up laws in order to be held to a standard above others. Though many crimes against these laws are minute, and can be paid for through religious devotion or small fees, some are held to a higher standard with a far greater debt to be remunerated. One of these major crimes being the unfaithfulness of a spouse, or an unmarried person having relations with another. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne focuses on the issue of the severe punishment for adultery; today, women in many countries such as Nigeria, Pakistan, and Iran suffer similar fates. In Nigeria, Amina Lawal, a 31 year old mother of four, serves as a present day Hester Prynne. Due to Lawal’s pregnancy while she wasn’t married she was put to trial for not upholding muslim customs. “‘She deserves to be stoned to death,’ the prosecutor declared”. Due to her unfaithfulness to the muslim faith, many believed she should be tried based off of the punishments of their laws.
Likewise in The Scarlet Letter Hester was put to trial because of the strict puritan customs of the time. Of which the punishments were the same, death. However in Hester’s case they decided to not give her the death sentence, but instead she was sentenced “to stand only a space of three hours on the platform of the pillory, and then and thereafter, for the remainder of her natural life, to wear a mark of shame upon her Wilson 2bosom.” However in both cases they did not let these things affect their faith in their respective religions. It is reported that Lawal’s faith is unshaken and has been recorded saying”One day Allah will bring everything to an end, and that will be it.” Likewise in Hester’s case she went on and stayed faithful, and even raised Pearl in the puritan customs. These similarities point to the belief that, though centuries apart Lawal, represents a common day Hester Prynne. Farzana Parveen a 25 year old resident of Pakistan was beaten to death after marrying the man she loved instead of her cousin, and then became pregnant. “The 25-year-old woman’s father, brother and spurned father were among about a dozen male relatives who used bricks and clubs in the so-called honor killing for disobeying her family’s wishes.” This woman was killed because instead of accepting the arranged marriage her family set up she decided to marry man whom she loved.
Likewise in The Scarlet Letter, Hester being alone in her new home found comfort in Arthur Dimmesdale a man who she grew to love. ‘But this had been a sin of passion, not of principle, nor even purpose.’ In both of their cases they decided to instead of doing what was deemed as culturally, and religiously correct they decided to choose passion and true love. Both had a man already set for them, they did not find what they were looking for in them, and as a result they found someone better. Though this did not cost Hester her life, Parveen is a present day Prynne because of their choice for love instead of the status quo. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year old Iranian mother of two was sentenced to be stoned to death. “She received 99 lashes for allegedly committing adultery with two-men after Wilson 3lashes, she was forced into confessing” In Ashtiani’s case she was not given a fair trial, in her society women are given very little opportunity to speak or witness in trials. In fact most of the time, in these trials evidence given by women is only used in order to prosecute, instead of prove innocent. Likewise in Hester’s story, the society is quick to outcast her and give her little to none of an opportunity to defend herself. As well the religious importance of both cases gives little to none outside help. “Since non-Muslims- in Iran that refers to Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian and Baha’i minorities- are not seen as just, they cannot serve as witnesses.” This eliminated those in Ashtiani’s case who could have helped her. As well in Prynne’s story after she was convicted her symbol of the scarlet “A” did not cause for people of other ways of life to disrespect her, instead they were intrigued.
After the events of Dimmesdale’s last sermon Hester disappears and becomes that of a legend, in her returning she became that of a spiritual guide. “Hester becomes a valued counselor to many women.” The people in which she helped could have helped her, but due to the persecution of that society, as well as that in Iran, both women were not given proper judiciary help in their cases. Hester and the three women of these articles have all faced persecution against societies with strict religious laws and practices. Though the price they have paid have varied they have all been used as an example, however for those who still have their lives still they did not let these circumstances stop them, yet instead they have continued on with their lives and are still parts of their communities.
Revenge, Hypocrisy And Emotional Pain
Hypocrisy, causing one to commit an even greater wrong than the one they seek vengeance for, consumes them with the desire for revenge. Caused by the desire to seek vengeance and punish someone who has caused internal or external pain to one or someone they are close to, revenge is able to consume and convert someone into a hypocritical creature.
For example, in The Scarlet Letter, Chillingworth’s wife, Hester, commits possibly the worst sin to the Puritan society: adultery. Chillingworth is consumed by the desire to seek vengeance on Dimmesdale, the man responsible for the destruction of his relationship. Chillingworth hurt, wronged and mad, imagines “a more intimate revenge than any mortal ad ever wrecked upon an enemy” (Hawthorne 216). Serving as Dimmesdale’s doctor, Chillingworth causes mass internal torture and destroys Dimmesdale both emotionally and mentally. With the sole purpose to seek harm, Chillingworth pretends to be a helping figure for Dimmesdale and falsely serves as a healer and friend. Comprehending the internal guilt and self-torture that this man has inside, Chillingworth violently attacks him, ultimately turning him into the man who has caused his desire for revenge: a deceitful, insincere and flawed creature. With the power of revenge, a virtuous, ethical and principled man is converted into a hypocritical, vengeful and harm-seeking brute.
On the other hand, some may claim that revenge is not the worst sin of all because it provides an accomplished, gratifying and positive feeling for the person seeking vengeance. Seeking revenge on one who has caused internal or external pain, allows for a release of the pain and puts justice to the foul acts that this person has committed. In a study, researchers found a clear and notable link between pleasure and emotional pain. For example, in a situation where someone is rejected, although it can be painful at first, as one is given the opportunity for revenge it rapidly converts into the sensation of pleasure. The rewarding feature of aggression and revenge allow for the pleasure and satisfaction of one internally. For example, when someone is provoked, they will act in a accurate and precise manner as their brain sees the rewarding results it will bring (BBC Hogenboom 2017).
However, although some may believe this to be true, in reality revenge does not love any problems and only creates a repeating cycle, as each action will only entice the other to seek vengeance once again. Also, although there are studies showing a clear link between pleasure and emotional pain, there are no studies that explore the sensations of revenge in a long-term spectrum, like days or weeks after they have done the harm. However, there have been studies, although unpublished, that demonstrate that the feeling of pleasure is only temporary (BBC Hogenboom 2017). Unfortunately, when contemplating to seek revenge, individuals only consider the positive outcomes that it’ll bring, however they become blind to the effect it will have n themselves internally. Even so, although seeking revenge on the person that hurt one the most may provide them with pleasure in the moment, there should be, in no-way, a dependence that the feeling will last forever.
The Forbidden Relationships in Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ And Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’
Hawthorne’s tragic romance novel, ‘The Scarlet Letter’ centres on the adulterer Hester Prynne who is condemned to live a life of solitude and singlehandedly raise the child she produced out of sin in a harsh, critical puritan society. Hester has an illicit affair with a character later revealed in the story, for this she is judged and brought forth into town for all to see and berate. Her crime of sleeping with another man is placed on exhibition an excessive punishment is therefore placed upon her. ‘…She was made the common infamy, at which all mankind was summoned to point its finger’ Hester was to be known for committing a crime against God, she was made ‘the common infamy’ meaning all would know her for her wrong doing. The people gathered to mock her and she was used by the Puritan society as an example of the consequences of forbidden relations and sin.
The Scarlet letter focuses on the strict nature of Puritan society; written after the Puritan era, it offers criticism on the judgemental characteristics and radical beliefs the Puritans possess. Hawthorne draws attention to the treatment of women and the way sins are severely punished. The puritan society of Boston mirrors actual society and Hawthorne uses this to express his views. Hester’s punishment is to not only be imprisoned and publicly shamed but to also be branded with the letter A for adulterer. ‘The penalty thereof is death. But in the mercy and tenderness of heart…they have doomed Mistress Prynne…to wear a mark of shame upon her bosom. ’ Ironically, this punishment is neither merciful nor tender as it envelops Hester in her sin and outcasts her from the world. The puritans believe that she deserves to die for a sin she didn’t commit alone but instead of killing her they decided to humiliate her and make her serve as a tale of the consequences of forbidden sin. She has to live with the repercussions of her forbidden love affair daily, she is ostracized and forced to bear the shame alone. ‘Man has marked this woman’s sin by a scarlet letter, which has such potent and disastrous efficacy that no human sympathy could save her, save it were sinful like herself. ’ Being branded with the A objectifies her, the A brands her as sin personified. She is imprisoned by the letter A as it tells a story to those who know her and those who don’t that she is a sinner, she is forever reminded of what she’s done and has no way of escaping. Her sin has been so greatly frowned upon that she believes nobody has sinned as greatly as her. She has committed an unpardonable sin and ‘raised a great scandal’ that according to the multitude warrants the most severe punishment ‘At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead’. The people of Puritan society are as judgemental and as violent as their leaders. Even the women whom the reader expects to show some form of compassion and mercy gather intently to watch Hester be penalized ‘…the women, of whom there were several in the crowd, appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue. ’ Women like Hester maybe sinners alike, gathered to watch her and participated in her ridicule. They enjoyed watching her be put to shame. The men and women of the town are self-righteous.
The scarlet letter is apparently based on a true story of a woman named Hester Craford who fornicated and became pregnant. She was ordered to be severely whipped but this was delayed until she gave birth to her illegitimate child. It is alleged that when the Scarlet letter was first published, some religious leaders complained that Hester had not been punished enough. Furthermore, Hawthorne delves further into the puritan beliefs as he focuses on Pearl, Hester’s illegitimate child. They believed children were born into their parent’s sin and Pearl a product of adultery. Pearl is a punishment in human form, ‘In giving her existence a law had been broken’ Hester was suffering not only for having an affair but bringing the child produced from it to life. ‘Pearl was a born outcast of the infantile world. An imp of evil, emblem and product of sin, she had no right among christened infants. Pearl is a permanent mark of sin from God, a constant reminder of her Hester’s sin not just to her but to the public. She is impure and just like her mother is sin personified. A physical manifestation of adultery, she is as bad as the sin in which she is a result of and has no place in Puritan society.
Similarly, Ford’s revenge tragedy ‘Tis Pity she’s a whore’, explores the severe consequences of forbidden relationships in a strict religious society. The tragedy takes place in Parma and tells the tale of the forbidden relationship between siblings Giovanni and Annabella. Giovanni and Annabella’s incestuous relationship leads Parma into complete destruction and downfall; they are defiant in their desire and passion to the very end. Giovanni knows that the strict catholic society of Parma forbids him to be in love and lay with his sister yet the more he tries to suppress his feelings the stronger they get. ‘I have too long suppressed my hidden flames, That almost have consum’d me;’ Giovanni is drawn to the forbidden but he cannot express it aloud because he knows it is wrong and his actions carry consequences. He longs for Annabella but cannot have her publicly which kills him inside. Giovanni desires Annabella but his desire cannot be spoken of outside, there is something about this relationship’s forbidden nature that makes him love it more. Giovanni tries to justify this relationship to the friar and to Annabella, he attempts to rationalise the relationship in a way that will soften its wrongdoing. ‘Say that we had one father, say one womb [curse to my joys] gave both us life and birth; Are we not therefore each to the other bound So much more by nature;’ Giovanni tells Annabella that because they are born of the same womb their love is more natural. It is fate that they are together because they are from the same parents and are bound by this reason. Arnold Schmidt says ‘Giovanni’s intellectual pride drives him to employ logic and argument to justify his incestuous desires, rather than to inhibit them. ’
Giovanni is supposed to continue supressing his feelings but he can’t and tries to manipulate Annabella into following his reasoning. Deep down Giovanni knows that a bad end is inevitable and what he and Annabella do in the dark will come to light. ‘Lost! I am lost! my fates have doom’d my death / The more I strive, I love; the more I love, / The less I hope: I see my ruin certain. The more Giovanni’s love for his sister grows, the closer he gets to his deathbed. His ruin ‘certain’, Giovanni knows that his end is inescapable. In the 17th Century, the subject of incest became increasingly important. The audience were concerned about sexuality and gender, religious leaders sought to police sexuality by encouraging monogamy and sanctioning sexual immorality like incest. Audience and critics have argued on whether Ford sympathises with incestuous lovers, criticising them or simply shedding light on the consequences of such sin. Like Hester, Annabella also falls pregnant as a result of her forbidden relationship however; she and her unborn child meet a violent end. Towards the end of the story, there is a dark turn and the audience witness the repercussions of a sinful relationship. Giovanni and Annabella succeeded in not only destroying themselves but taking everyone they were involved with down too. According to Larry S. Champion ‘’Tis Pity She’s a Whore is a tragedy of a whole society as much as it the tragedy of an individual. The tragedy focused not just on the two forbidden lovers but on the havoc they wreaked on society in their final moments. Ford’s play mirrors other tragedies but he insists on introducing topics that people have never seen before in order to get attention.
Hypocrisy is also central theme in ‘Scarlet letter’ and ‘Tis Pity’. In Scarlet letter Hester’s lover is revealed to be Reverend Dimmesdale, the same man who stood amongst men and condemned her, the man who told her to reveal the name of the man she sinned with and got angry when she refused to divulge his name. “Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him —yea, compel him, as it were — to add hypocrisy to sin?” Dimmesdale is being hypocritical as he wants Hester to confess his sins for him but he also knows that she won’t give his name up. He describes himself when he talks about stepping down from a high place and standing aside Hester on the scaffold, he knows he has to but he has too much too lose and would rather cover up his sin. He is hypocritical for badgering Hester to confess knowing that she is not going to do as she wants to protect him. Hawthorne uses Dimmesdale to represent and mock the holy Puritans of the church, labelling them the most hypocritical and worst sinners of all. Dimmesdale is respected and walks among the revered yet he sinned with Hester and didn’t confess. He is a great sinner, as bad as Hester which he knows but him being a man amongst great men makes it almost impossible for him to confess his sins ‘The minister well knew – subtle, but remorseful hypocrite that he was’. Author Nathaniel Hawthorne writes, ‘No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true. ‘ The Scarlet letter exposes how corrupt the puritans are and how quick they are to judge. 17th Century women found guilty of adultery were punished severely while the men weren’t. Dimmesdale doesn’t endure the same public humiliation Hester does ‘He bears no letter of infamy wrought into his garment, as thou dost. ’ he gets to internalise his shame, and he isn’t publicly humiliated like Hester. The revelation of Dimmesdale being guilty didn’t change much even though he confessed with his own mouth because he was respected and people thought he was doing it to be humble. He represents a shortcoming of the puritans, Hawthorne presents the male figure of the church as weak, the man who is supposed to flee from sin and lead Hester in the path of righteousness leads her away from it. Dimmesdale also possesses some Machiavellian qualities ‘ …the Reverend master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to his heart that such a scandal should have come upon his congregation. ’ He is referred to as ‘godly’ multiple times but is far from it; he appears one way yet is another. He acts holy but is a sinner just like the woman he condemns.
Ford also explores this double standard which women are held to and the hypocrisy of the society they live in. The cardinal just like the puritans is corrupt and selfish despite being a man of calibre and well respected. A character that exhibits hypocrisy the most is Soranzo as he constantly contradicts himself and his actions. When Soranzo discovers Annabella is pregnant he insults her and handles her rather violently. ‘[Enter Soranzo unbraced, and dragging in Annabella. ] Come, strumpet, famous whore! were every drop Of blood that runs in thy adulterous veins…’ Soranzo manhandles Annabella and calls her an adulterer which is hypocritical of him as he slept with a married woman. Soranzo is the real adulterer for wooing and sleeping with Hippolita. Soranzo courted Hippolita before abandoning her and when she confronted him he blamed her and told her to repent. ‘Woman, come here no more; Learn to repent, and die; for by my honour, I hate thee and thy lust: you have been too foul’ Soranzo and Hippolita both committed a sin and did wrong yet Soranzo absolves himself of any wrong doing and tells her to repent. He hates her and her lust even though he is the one who was lusting after her. Ginny Randall says that ‘the focus of the play does seem to be on the political and ecclesiastical abuses of power and hypocrisy rather than punishing the incestuous couple for behaving in a morally repugnant way.
By using incest to expose the corruption evident in society, Ford asks the audience to focus less on the morality of the issue and more on the societal corruption elucidated. ’Sin and guilt plague both Hester and Dimmesdale, Hester is forced to confront the consequences of her sin and live with the guilt forever whilst Dimmesdale keeps his sin a secret and hides his guilt. ‘Had Hester sinned alone’ this question arose after Hester was shamed publicly for having an affair whilst the man she had an affair with identity remained hidden. Dimmesdale never came forward as the man who she had sinned with, therefore wronging her and harbouring more guilt on his conscience. As a result of his guilt, Dimmesdale turns to isolation and fasts in order for forgiveness. He subjects himself to punishment through intense fasting and self-flagellation with hopes of repentance and being free of guilt. ‘In Mr Dimmesdale’s secret closet…there was a bloody scourge. ’ He resorted to methods used by old, hard-core puritans in order to rid himself of his guilt. ‘It was his custom, too…to fast-…rigorously, and until his knees trembled beneath him as an act of penance. He kept vigils, likewise, night after night sometimes in utter darkness…’ Dimmesdale wants to purge his soul, punish himself for his sin, he brutalises himself to the point that he hallucinates and becomes haggard. When he and Hester meet in the forest for the first time he doesn’t have a guilty conscience, he talks about running away with Hester and Pearl into a new life. Dimmesdale went against his religious morals by sleeping with Hester and even though couldn’t, he wanted to be with her. ‘Neither can I any longer live without her companionship;’ He couldn’t be without her ‘any longer’ showing that he did indeed want her but was held by the repressive puritan society. This links back to the unspeakable desire, longing for someone and wanting them the more when you know you can’t have them. This joy is short lived as the ‘conscience-stricken priest’ goes to confess his sins with Hester and Pearl ‘the sin born child’ by his side. ‘At last! – at last! – I stand upon the spot where, seven years since, I should have stood, here, with this woman, ’ Evidently, the guilt of his sin against God and Hester has troubled him deeply as he acknowledges that he should have confessed long ago. Dimmesdale barely has the strength to address the public showing that the guilt has physically and mentally strained him. After confessing his sin, he dies. ‘By bringing me hither, to die this death of triumphant ignominy before the people!’ He appreciates the fact that he was able to confess his sins and free his mind of guilt before he takes his last breath. Hawthorne suffered guilt similar to Dimmesdale; his ancestor was a leading judge in the Salem witch trials which lead him to change his name from Hathorne to Hawthorne. In the same way, Giovanni tries to purge himself of sinful thoughts towards Annabella in the beginning. He too, per the friar’s advice locks himself in his room, isolating himself from the world and fasting till he is sick. ‘…even starved my veins with daily fasts. ’
Like Dimmesdale, Giovanni fasts daily in an unhealthy way to purge himself of unclean thoughts and get rid of his guilt. This doesn’t work and he later admits his guilt to Annabella. “The laws of conscience and of civil use / May justly blame us” He is fully aware that their relationship was wrong and instead of quelling the desire that fuelled the sinful relationship, he fed into it and made Annabella feed into it too. Giovanni and Annabella both die as a result of their sin catching up to them. ‘Death thou art a guest longed looked for’. The Christian society believes that the wages of sin is death so these two sinners got what they deserved.
The Scarlet Letter Reading Response
Journal Entry 1: “The Custom House”
Romanticism was a movement that was increasingly popular during Hawthorne’s time. The romantic style, when applied to literature, implies a focus on beauty, emotion, and imagination. Right away, we can see how Hawthorne was inspired by Romanticism when writing “The Custom House.” The core purpose of this section of Hawthorne’s story was to share, in a romantic fashion, how the narrator discovered, and was emotionally moved by, Hester Prynne’s story. Prior to the narrator’s discovery, he describes in great detail the atmosphere and people of Salem and the Custom House. There is an underlying sense of death and repetition surrounding the town, even in life. This continues into the Custom House. The narrator noticed that the employees, old men had been doing the same thing for years and years. He was both appreciative of them for sticking around for so long and annoyed at their laziness and lack of care. I think this translated into his general feelings of the town as well. When he discovered Hester’s story and the scarlet letter itself, the mood instantly becomes more intense and interesting. I feel that by addressing the reader directly, Hawthorne creates a sense of reality and curiosity that is more difficult to achieve from other perspectives. The details used to describe the letter imply that the letter will be an important symbol later in the story. Also, the description of how the letter seemed to “burn” at the touch, makes sympathizing with Hester easier.
Journal Entry 2: Chapters 1-2
The narrator portrays the townspeople as somewhat cruel and severe. He seems to be critical of the Puritans’ harsh punishments and treatment towards Hester. The narrator is sympathetic towards Hester; he feels both pity and respect for her despite her shameful actions. Nonetheless, he also acknowledges that her infidelity was sinful and wrong. In the first two chapters, Hester mostly exudes confidence, but she feels guilty inside. The scarlet letter “A,” which stands for adulterer, usually represents the shame and guilt Hester feels about her actions. She embroiders the scarlet letter in order for her to be able to identify with it better. The contrast of the purpose behind the letter and the beauty Hester added to it shows how she wanted to make the best of her situation. Other contrasts within the first two chapters include the darkness and light as Hester transitions from the prison out into the open. This transition symbolizes Hester’s inability to hide from her sin, she must face it in front of everyone.
Journal Entry 3: Chapters 3-4
In this section we see more clearly the effects of the shame Hester feels. The narrator repeats throughout these next chapters that the letter felt like it was burning her. Although Hester usually keeps her feelings and pain inside, her guilt is more visible and she has frequent breakdowns under the scrutiny of the public. This reflects the theme of guilt destroying the soul. When the stranger, Chillingworth, is introduced, it is clear he is the opposite of Hester. Hester is a “romantic” character who follows impulses and emotion. Chillingworth is basically the “anti-romantic.” He seems to be inspired by Enlightenment, rather than Romantic ideals. Chillingworth, an older man, appears to be very well educated, pragmatic, and rational. Even his name Chillingworth is a symbol for his cold, calculating personality. We see soon that Chillingworth is actually Hester’s “lost” husband. This makes Hester’s infidelity more understanding because she and her husband were so different.
Journal Entry 4: Chapters 5-6
The major themes in chapter five are how guilt affects Hester and how, despite her punishment, she is able to persevere and make enough to take care of herself and Pearl. The letter on Hester’s clothes cause everyone to reject her. Hester is viewed as an outcast, and she feels the pang of guilt every time someone averts their eyes from her, or refuses to speak with her. I find it very honorable that she chooses to stay in her area instead of trying to run away from her shame. Hester feels that she must accept the punishment and live with her decisions. Hester provides for Pearl and herself by sewing and embroidering for special events(but never weddings). It is ironic that the same people who refuse to associate with Hester, will readily purchase the product of her sinful hands. Pearl’s character is extremely confusing; her name as it self is symbolic because she is her mother’s only treasure. Pearl is everything valuable to Hester. Pearl is fiesty and strong willed. The townsfolk believe she is demonic due to her mother’s sin. Pearl, was obviously born into innocence and not sin, but because of what the townspeople would say to her, she rejects God and does display some worrisome traits.
Journal Entry 5: Chapters 7-8
When Hester is accused of raising a “demon-child,” the council threatens to take Pearl away. Hester argues to the local government that she is really the best option for Pearl because she can teach the troubled girl to not make the same mistakes as her mother. The council in not convinced this is a strong enough argument, so Hester gets Dimmesdale to convince the other council to let Hester keep Pearl. Dimmesdale, Pearl’s secret father, argued that having the child was necessary for God’s plan. Pearl would be yet another reminder… A symbol of Hester’s infidelity.
Journal Entry 6: Chapters 9-12
At this point, jealousy and the need for revenge has corrupted the rational Chillingworth. Guilt and shame has eaten away at Dimmesdale and made him emotionally and physically weak. When Chillingworth discovers Dimmesdale is the other adulturer, he basically tortures the man emotionally until he is past the breaking point. This shows how revenge and guilt both can destroy people. The name Dimmesdale is a symbol for himself because it represents the dimming of his vitality and fate.
Journal Entry 7: Chapters 13-15
I think this is one of my favorite questions because it really depends on the outlook of Hester herself. The theme is that a person can become stronger by working through their weaknesses. By now, Hester has worn the scarlet letter for several years. The letter “A” shifted from symbolizing and representing “adulturer” to “able.” Though she is never fully accepted into Puritan culture again, she no longer is forced to be a complete stranger. She has made great self-progress and she finally accepts who she is. Not as an adulturer unworthy of any love, but as a woman who has made many mistakes but fought through them. Hester becomes more thoughtful of others and
Journal Entry 8: Chapters 16-19
This is an interesting question because explaining love in general is a hard thing to do. When adultery and Puritan culture are added to the mix, it can quickly become a slippery slope. I think the most I could say for Hester and Dimmesdale is that they think they love each other. It likely isn’t true love. I feel like you can’t find true love by sinful means, because you could never be truly happy. The guilt will always be carried. Especially in their case, Dimmesdale was too scared/selfish to share the burden Hester carried, and Hester didn’t tell Dimmesdale she knew why Chillingworth was abusing him. I think the theme here is even well intended deceptions and secrets can lead to destruction, because even though they both were not telling the whole truth for good reason, they hurt each other a lot doing so.
The Scarlet Letter By Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was published in 1850. It was written in the Romantic literary period of American Literature. A literary movement called Transcendentalism was thriving during the 1830s and 1840s, primarily in Massachusetts. They believed in the power of the human mind to shape and determine experience. The Scarlet letter creates a harsh picture of the Puritans, a religious group that controlled a English settlement in Massachusetts in the late seventeenth-century.
The protagonist in The Scarlet Letter is Hester Prynne. She is the mother of Pearl. Hester must wear the scarlet letter “A” on herself as punishment of her adulterous affair with Arthur Dimmesdale, who is the towns minister. Hester is married to Roger Chillingworth, but as she was waiting for his arrival back home, she engaged in the adulterous affair, which lead to Pearl’s birth.
The antagonist in The Scarlet Letter is Roger Chillingworth. Roger is Hester’s husband, a scholar who is much older than Hester, sent Hester ahead to America, and Roger never made it to Boston. The majority opinion is that he got lost of sea. Roger arrives home on the day that his wife is publicly shamed and forced to wear the scarlet letter. Roger wants revenge on Pearl’s father, who has committed adultery with his wife.
The Scarlet Letter opens with a preamble about how to book came to be written. The story begins in Boston, in the seventeenth-century, in a Puritan settlement. A young women, Hester Prynne, is directed from town prison, in arms is her infant daughter, Pearl, and the scarlet letter “A” on her chest. The scarlet letter “A” stands for adultery, which is the sin Hester has committed. Hester’s husband returns to town, and tells his identity to be Roger Chillingworth, and is hungry for revenge on Hester’s lover. Roger realizes that Arthur Dimmesdale is Hester’s lover. Roger harasses him for the next seven years, and Arthur is sick with guilt. Hester tells Arthur who Roger actually is, and that they plan to settle back in England. Arthur is still feeling guilty, and then develops a red mark on his chest. Arthur cancels his plans, and confesses to his sin. When standing on the scaffold in front of the entire town, he rips open his shirt to display the red mark on his chest before dying. Roger also dies, and leaves his fortunes to Pearl. Pearl and Hester can now leave and head back to England. In the end, Hester goes back to the colony and happily continues to wear her letter. Later, Hester dies, and is buried next to Arthur, with the letter “A” marked on her grave.
One key theme in The Scarlet Letter is revenge, as Roger Chillingworth wants revenge on Arthur. Another theme is women and femininity.
Significant Literary Elements:
The Scarlet Letter takes place in Boston, in the seventeenth-century, in a Puritan settlement. The scarlet letter symbolizes adultery, hard work, sin, charity, righteousness, and grace. The forest and wilderness symbolizes freedom and emotional escape, the prison door symbolizes a place of sin compared to God’s grace. In The Scarlet Letter, the unnamed narrator uses a third person perspective. Literary elements that Hawthorne included in The Scarlet Letter are irony, symbolism, and imagery. One symbol is the scaffolding that Hester stands on, that represents Puritan hypocrisy. In the novel it states, “The same platform or scaffold, black and weather-stained with the storm or sunshine of seven long years, and foot-worn, too, with the tread of many culprits who had since ascended it, remained standing beneath the balcony of the meeting house” (Hawthorne 143). Another literary element used in the novel is irony, the minister, Dimmesdale, commits a frowned upon sin in spite of being supposedly holy. The novel states, “…he was often observed, on any slight alarm or other sudden accident, to put his hand over his heart, with first a flush and then a paleness, indicative of pain” (Hawthorne 119).
“A writer of story-books! What kind of a business in life,—what mode of glorifying God, or being serviceable to mankind in his day and generation,—may that be? Why, the degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler!” Such are the compliments bandied between my great-grandsires and myself, across the gulf of time! And yet, let them scorn me as they will, strong traits of their nature have intertwined themselves with mine.” (Hawthorne 21)
This passage comes from the Introductory Sketch of The Scarlet Letter. The narrator explains how he came to write his version of Hester Prynne’s story. Part of his motives in the story is personal, he comes from the original Puritan settlers of massachusetts. The narrator both proclaims and and withstands Puritan principles. His heart tells him to write, but the Puritan side of him sees the foolishness to do one’s utmost. The narrator finds Hester interesting because she represents the past, but also because her encounters represent his own predicaments. For the narrator, writing about Hester’s story turns into an understanding of himself. This is important because we find out why the narrator wrote The Scarlet Letter and what the purpose of the story is.
Hester Prynne’s character is dynamic, meaning it changes throughout the course of the book. She is the main character in The Scarlet Letter, whom changes a great deal throughout the story. She is a dynamic character because in the beginning of the story she is a proud women struggling with in her situation in life. As the book progresses, she gains confidence, strength, and dignity. Hester learns to assist her town and community without bitterness, to make her situation better, and to provide for her new child. Hester’s changing character can also been defined in the changing of the townspeople towards her. At the beginning, they mocked, judged, and declined her. As time passed, the townspeople learned to accept her, and appreciate her services she does for the community and her kindness. Before the novel even began, we knew that she was a beautiful women with a strong mind. Hester followed the instinct in her heart, rather than society’s expectations of behavior. We can infer that Hester is very true, selfless, and loyal due to her refusal to her refusal to reveal her baby’s father. She is willing to carry the suffering for her sin alone, which tells us she is not bitter, or revengeful.
In The Scarlet Letter, symbols appear throughout the book. Hawthorne uses many different concrete objects to represent a deeper meaning. The chief symbol in the story is the scarlet letter “A”, which symbolizes Hester’s adultery. The letter “A” appears in several forms and places. It’s the letter on Hester’s chest that she must wear for the remainder of her life, due to the sin of adultery. The scarlet letter is meant to be a symbol of shame, but in fact becomes a strong symbol of identity to Hester. The scarlet letter “A” is made of red cloth, and is beautifully embroidered. The scarlet letter “A” was originally intended to stand for adultery, but eventually comes to stand for able, which marks her as a person of importance. Hester wins the townspeople’s respect and becomes known as a generous helper and a kind person.
As Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl stand on the scaffold, a meteor traces out an “A” in the dark night sky. The meteor for Dimmesdale implies that he should wear a mark of shame just like Hester Prynne does. The community interprets the meteor in a different way, thinking it stands for “angel” marking Governor Winthrop’s entry into heaven. The Puritans usually looked to symbols to confirm devine sentiments. However in this novel, symbols are taken to mean what the individual wants them to mean. The meteor scene emphasizes two different uses of symbols, which are literary and Puritan.
Pearl’s main purpose within the novel is as a symbol. Pearl is a living, breathing version of her mother’s scarlet letter, and is also a constant reminder of her mother’s sin. She is the consequence of committing the sin of adultery. Even as a reminder of Hester’s sin, she is more than a punishment to Hester, Pearl is also a blessing. Not only does she represent sin, but also the essential spirit and passion that caused that sin. Therefor, Pearl’s life gives her mother reason to live, picking her up when she wants to give up. Pearl can only become fully “human” after Dimmesdale is said to be her father. Until that happens, Pearl functions in a symbolic position as the reminder of an unsolved mystery.
The forest symbolizes Nature, in both its lighter and darker aspects. When reading the novel it becomes very obvious that there is a contrast between the setting of the forest and the setting of the town. The forest symbolizes and dark, mysterious place where urges live and is also where affairs take place, and to be kept secret. The forest is explained to be dim, gloomy and full of dark shadows, while in the cloudy sky, there appears threatening storms. When the rays of sunlight come down on Pearl, but do not make it to Hester, it is symbolic for Hester’s inability to find happiness or warmth. The invading darkness is suggestive of the dreary gloom in her life. The darkness disappears when she meets with Dimmesdale and plans to leave Boston with him. Hester throws away the scarlet letter and lets down her hair, as a symbol of freedom. A stream of sunshine lights up the forest, eliminating the darkness.
“Mother,” said little Pearl, “the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. . . . It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!”
“Nor ever will, my child, I hope,” said Hester.
“And why not, mother?” asked Pearl, stopping short. . . . “Will it not come of its own accord, when I am a woman grown?”. (Hawthorne 175)
This quote, taken from Chapter 16, “A Forest Walk”, means that Hester experiences more dark, sad times than light and happy times. It was expected that Hester would live most of her life in darkness because she commited the sin of adultery. Pearl says “…afraid of something on your bosom..”, she means that the scarlet letter on her moms chest is something full of darkness, not something light and happy. The sun will not flee from Pearl because she has not done anything wrong. Pearl has not sinned, therefore she can catch the light of the the sun. This quotation is important because it conveys the idea that Pearl is often aware of things that others don’t see, and in this quote she recognizes the “A” on her mother’s bosom as a lack of sunshine in her mother’s life. When Pearl says, “Will it not come of its own accord, when I am a woman grown”, she suggesting that all women wear a scarlet letter. Of course Pearl has noticed that the other women in her town do not wear scarlet letters. Pearls question suggests that sin-which the scarlet letter represents-is an destined part of being a fully-developed human being.
“What she compelled herself to believe-what, finally, she reasoned upon as her motive for continuing a resident of New England-was half a truth, and half a self-delusion. Here, she said to herself, had been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment; and so, perchance, the torture of her daily shame would at length purge her soul and work out another purity than that which she had lost; more saintlike, because the result of martyrdom.
Hester Prynne, therefore, did not flee.”
Hester Prynne had many options to escape her punishment, and live a better life. She could have fled the village, to hide from her sin. Even though Hester could have easily left, she did not, she stayed. Hester dealt with the consequences of her actions, and because of that she actually changed tremendously for the better. She learned to embrace it and live with it. I agree with Hester for staying in town and owning up to her sins, and living with the consequences. Not only did she live with the consequences, but they changed her so much, that she became a totally new women.
There are many lesson that I gained from the novel, The Scarlet Letter. One of the bigger lessons learned is that you can’t run away from your sins. This is seen when Hester and Dimmesdale plan to run away and escape punishment. The novel states “That this physician here-Chillingworth, he calls himself-is minded to try my cabin-fare with you?”. This passage shows that Dimmesdale and Hester try to do the desperate thing and try to escape. The lesson trying to expressed is that someone can’t escape from their sins by running away.
Prejudiced Society in The Scarlet Letter Novel
Society has traditionally condemned promiscuity and rebelliousness, deeming these characteristics as abnormal and perhaps even pernicious. Numerous literary works, including Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, perfectly depicted the prevalence of society’s harsh disparagement in the Puritan settlement of Boston during the 1600s. The hypocritical women from this generation sought to abase Hester Prynne for her crime of adultery with their condescending looks and chastising gossip, yet Hester manages to preserve her personal dignity by emerging as a strong, independent woman despite the disgrace that she represented to her community. In choosing to fight for her ideals instead of abiding by the common conventions of this era, Hester controlled her own life and surpassed the fate that society had reserved for her. Through her quiescent acceptance of her public humiliation, her negotiations with Governor Bellingham, and her service to the suffering, Hester Prynne impressed the Scarlet Letter’s readers with her resilience.
In the opening scene, the town-beadle marched Hester Prynne out from the jail “until on the threshold of the prison-door, she repelled him, by an action marked of natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air as if by her own free will.” Initially, Hester seemed discomfited under such careful scrutiny from the crowd, but she promptly regained her composure “and with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that could not be abashed” by the surrounding gossip, Hester regarded the townspeople with placidity. Furthermore, Hester endured her ignominy with elegance, opting to embroider the symbol of her adultery, the scarlet A, with golden thread to demonstrate that society had no power to intimidate her. Even when Hester faced public interrogation from Reverend Dimmesdale, she concealed his identity as the father of her child, deciding to encounter the shame on her own and refusing to relent to the pressures of the multitude. Additionally, Hester remained in Boston after her ordeal because she would not give the Puritans the satisfaction of knowing that they had successfully destroyed her dignity and suppressed her passion.
Years after Hester’s humiliating experience, she arrived at Governor Bellingham’s mansion and demanded to converse with him, since rumors that the governor planned to rescind Hester’s custody of her daughter, Pearl had penetrated her cabin on the outskirts of town. She would not accept the denial of her access to Bellingham’s estate, and the foreign porter “judging from the decision of her air, and the glittering symbol on her bosom, that she was a great lady in the land, offered no opposition.” Hester’s resolve and confidence also allowed her to blackmail Arthur Dimmesdale into persuading the governor to grant her the privilege of having custody of her child threatening Dimmesdale with the revelation of his cryptic affair. Although she faced degrading comments and immeasurable difficulties, Hester’s realistic sense of self-worth allowed her to battle for what she deserved. She supported herself and her daughter financially through her talent of sewing, and she revealed her impregnability to the Puritan society by demonstrating her lack of reliance on society’s approval for survival.
Throughout her trials, Hester’s dignity prohibited her misfortunes from annihilating her genuine, benevolent nature. She provided aid to the destitute, the infirmed, and the ones who had fallen on hard times, but after her labor, she “departed, without one backward glance to gather up the meed of gratitude, if any were in the hearts of those whom she had served so zealously.” Despite the fact that many of her beneficiaries refrained from publicly addressing her after their adversity had passed, she still continued to “give of her little substance to every demand of poverty, even though the bitter-hearted pauper threw back a gibe in requital of the food brought regularly to his door, or the garments wrought for him by the fingers that could have embroidered a monarch’s robe.” Ironically, “such helpfulness was found in her—so much power to do, and so much power to sympathize —that many people refused to interpret the A by its original signification.” Instead, the A later stood for “Able,” a testament to Hester’s resilience and her determination to exceed the expectations that the Puritan town of Boston had arranged for a sinner like her. Even though the outcasts of society scorned her and took advantage of her services, Hester persevered with her mission work since her inherently refined nature encouraged her to utilize her time and lowly position on the social hierarchy in a valuable manner.
Overall, Hester did not allow the townspeople’s opinions to taint her perception of herself. She defied the conventional beliefs by thriving in a secluded cabin on the outskirts of town and nurturing Pearl on her own. Hester would not permit the rumors and ignominy she faced to defeat her. She rose to meet every obstacle in her path and she continued to flourish morally through her benevolent deeds, meanwhile, the hypocritical Puritans struggled with their ailing conscience and their sins. Despite the disgrace that she represented to the community, Hester’s infallible fortitude improved the lives of all those around her. She believed that she possessed power over her own destiny, and in taking charge of her life to overcome numerous barriers, she impressed the townspeople as well as the readers of the Scarlet Letter. Most admirably of all, however, was Hester’s ability to guide Pearl toward success and Dimmesdale toward temporary comfort in the midst of her own misery.
Roger Chillingworth: a Portrayal Of The Leading Character
The Scarlet Letter
In this view, Hester arrives to battle Chillingworth while he is picking herbs. She likes him to halt tormenting Dimmesdale the way he is. This view is recounting the transformation that Chillingworth has gone through. It recounts how he has gone from a scholarly and charming man to a beast that is out to origin not anything but damage to Dimmesdale. This extract is significant because it displays what kind of transformation Chillingworth has gone through. This view in specific is a good general portrait of what he has become. He begun out the innovative as a medical practitioner who comes back to the village he left long before under a presumed name. When he recognizes that his wife is being persecuted for committing adultery, he vows to reveal the man to blame for the crime. This seek turns him into a monster that can only be persuaded by Dimmesdale’ pain (Brodhead).
This section depicts the increasing familiarity between Roger Chillingworth, the doctor, and the ailing Arthur Dimmesdale. The townspeople seem that Providence has conveyed Chillingworth to Boston to look after their juvenile minister, whose wellbeing is failing. Dimmesdale disputes Chillingworth’s anxiety for him and states he does not require a doctor; the place of adoration elders contradict and give Chillingworth consent to heal Dimmesdale. The two men start expending much time simultaneously and eventually set up house in the identical house (Davidson).
Chillingworth’s increasing concern in discovering the reality about Dimmesdale’s ill-health is sharp out in detail. He concerns all the assets at his disposal to discover more about the juvenile pastor. The harder he works at uncovering the minutia of Dimmesdale’s life, the uglier and more bad he appears. Before long the townspeople observe the change in Chillingworth’s face and start to have suspicions about him. Some believe that he practices the very dark art of illusion, and other ones believe he is Satan’s emissary dispatched to torture Dimmesdale. No issue who he is, Chillingworth is conspicuously not assisting the juvenile minister, who appears to augment worse and gloomier with each transient day (Miller).
Leech, the section name, to which this extract pertains, is a Puritan phrase for doctor, as well as a blood-sucking worm; both meanings aptly request to Chillingworth. He is a health medical practitioner by occupation, but he is furthermore a man parched for revenge, who is striving to imbibe the life- body-fluid from Dimmesdale like a parasite. The section displays how Chillingworth at the start convinces the parishioners that he should look after the ailing wellbeing of their minister; then it displays how Chillingworth organizes to assure Dimmesdale that they should reside under the identical top covering so he can certainly look after him. The irony is that Dimmesdale does not require having his body healed; it is his soul that is sick. His concealed and unconfessed sin is consuming away at his being, producing him bear even more substantially than Hester, who has been compelled to in an open way confess her sin (Miller).
It is not just Dimmesdale who proceeds through personal changes. As Chillingworth manipulates the juvenile minister and hunts for his revenge, his look furthermore deteriorates; he develops more rotated and ugly. The bad of his soul is furthermore echoed in his face to such a stage that the townspeople start to believe he should perform very dark illusion or be an agent of Satan (Hunter).
Although The Scarlet Letter is about Hester Prynne, the publication is not so much a concern of her innate feature as it is a written check of the forces that form her and the transformations those forces effect. We understand very little about Hester former to her activity with Dimmesdale and her resultant public shaming. We read that she wed Chillingworth whereas she did not love him, but we not ever completely realize why. The early sections of the publication propose that, former to her wedding ceremony, Hester was a strong-willed and impetuous juvenile woman—she recalls her parents as adoring tour guides who often had to hold back her incautious behavior. The detail that she has an activity furthermore proposes that she one time had a fervent nature (Davidson).
But it is what occurs after Hester’s activity that makes her into the woman with who the book reader is familiar. Shamed and alienated from the rest of the community, Hester becomes contemplative. She speculates on human environment, communal association, and bigger lesson questions. Hester’s tribulations furthermore lead her to be stoic and a freethinker. Although the narrator imagines condemning of Hester’s unaligned philosophizing, his pitch shows that he furtively admires her self-reliance and her ideas (Brodhead).
Hester furthermore becomes a kind of compassionate maternal number as an outcome of her experiences. Hester moderates her inclination to be rash, for she understands that such demeanour could origin her to misplace her female child, Pearl. Hester is furthermore maternal with esteem to society: she cares for the poor and adds them nourishment and clothing. By the novel’s end, Hester has become a proto-feminist mother number to the women of the community (Hunter). The disgrace adhered to her scarlet note is long gone. Women identify that her penalty arose in part from the village fathers’ sexism, and they arrive to Hester searching protect from the sexist forces under which they themselves suffer. Throughout The Scarlet Letter Hester is depicted as a smart, adept, but not inevitably exceptional woman. It is the exceptional attenuating components forming her that make her such a significant figure.
As his title proposes, Roger Chillingworth is a man deficient in human warmth. His rotated, stooped, deformed bears reflector his garbled soul. From what the book reader is notified of his early years with Hester, he was a tough husband. He disregarded his wife for much of the time, yet anticipated her to nourish his soul with fondness when he did condescend to spend time with her. Chillingworth’s conclusion to suppose the persona of a “leech,” or medical practitioner, is fitting. Unable to enlist in equitable connections with those round him, he feeds on the vitality of other ones as a way of energizing his own projects (Davidson). Chillingworth’s death is an outcome of the environment of his character. After Dimmesdale passes away, Chillingworth no longer has a victim. Similarly, Dimmesdale’s revelation that he is Pearl’s dad eliminates Hester from the vintage man’s clutches. Having lost the things of his revenge, the leech has no alternative but to die (Brodhead).
Ultimately, Chillingworth comprises factual evil. He is affiliated with secular and occasionally illegal types of information, as his chemical trials and health practices rarely verge on witchcraft and murder. He is involved in revenge, not fairness, and he hunts for the premeditated decimation of other ones other than a redress of wrongs. His yearn to injure other ones stands in compare to Hester and Dimmesdale’s sin, which had love, not despise, as its intent. Any damage that may have arrived from the juvenile lovers’ deed was unanticipated and inadvertent, while Chillingworth reaps premeditated harm.
Arthur Dimmesdale, like Hester Prynne, is a one-by-one whose persona is obliged more too external attenuating components than to his innate nature. The book reader is notified that Dimmesdale was a scholar of some renown at Oxford University. His past proposes that he is likely rather aloof, the kind of man who would not have much natural understanding for commonplace men and women. However, Dimmesdale has an oddly hardworking conscience. The detail that Hester takes all of the accuse for their distributed sin goads his conscience, and his resultant mental anguish and personal flaw open up his brain and permit him to empathize with others. Consequently, he becomes an eloquent and strongly sensed mighty speaker and a compassionate foremost, and his congregation is adept to obtain significant religious guidance from him (Hunter).
Ironically, the townspeople manage not accept as factual Dimmesdale’s protestations of sinfulness. Given his backdrop and his penchant for rhetorical talk, Dimmesdale’s congregation usually understands his sermons allegorically other than as signs of any individual guilt. This drives Dimmesdale to farther internalize his guilt and self-punishment and directs to still more worsening in his personal and religious condition. The town’s idolization of him comes to new heights after his Election Day sermon, which is his last. In his death, Dimmesdale becomes even more of an icon than he was in life. Many accept as factual his confession was symbolic proceeds, while other ones accept as factual Dimmesdale’s destiny was a demonstration of divine judgment (Miller).
Although not devout by environment, Roger Chillingworth selects the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale as his religious advisor, an alternative conceived to pique the reader’s curiosity. Dimmesdale’s humility and his numerous fasts and vigils have influenced the townspeople with his holiness, but they worry that his worsening personal status has conveyed him close to death. The elders convince him to request the recommendations of the wise doctor. Though Dimmesdale states he favors death to Chillingworth’s medicines, he and the medical practitioner spend long hours simultaneously conversing about numerous subjects. To permit him to “help” the minister even more, Chillingworth plans that the two of them should lodge in distinct luxury suites at the dwelling of a widow. The narrator notifies us that persons of the village have differing attitudes of the arrangement. Many glimpse it as the response to their prayers that the minister might be helped (Hunter).
The phrase “leech” mentions here to a medical practitioner because medical practitioners utilized leeches to draw out “bad” body-fluid from their patients. The befitting twice significance of this phrase is clear-cut when we recognize that Chillingworth has adhered himself to the juvenile minister and Chillingworth and Dimmesdale is gradually drawing out data from his worried soul. Hawthorne’s method of proposing distinct attitudes of a happening or feature directs the book reader to outlook Chillingworth as somebody demonic and to glimpse the major individual characteristics as taking part in a cosmic interplay of good and evil.
Hester Prynne: a Strong Female Character That Challenges Society’s Norm
An Author Ahead of His Time
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses protagonist Hester Prynne as a dynamic depiction of a strong female character, one who challenges society’s norm. Such a concept was not quite as prominent at the time, and furthermore enforced throughout the novel in various ways. Hester’s thoughts, actions, and her legacy are all closely monitored and influenced by elements of feminism, and though she’s more of a typical women at the beginning of the book, Hester becomes more and more feminist as the plot thickens. Her early representation in the novel is perfectly interpreted by Hawthorne in Chapter V., right after Hester is released from prison and is seen donning the infamous Scarlet Letter: “Throughout them all, giving up her individuality, she would become the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they might vivify and embody their images of women’s frailty and sinful passion” (67). In this quote Hawthorne is ultimately trying to criticize society, that suggests that women are supposed to be weak and oblige to the standard regulation. Regardless of her perception, Hester’s role across The Scarlet Letter compliments Hawthorne’s somewhat philosophical beliefs, and likewise confirms the notion that The Scarlet Letter is a true forerunner of American feminism, conveyed through Hester’s unorthodox sexual ambitions, interchange of gender roles, and her infamous act of adultery.
Contrary to most obedient woman of the Puritan community at the time, Hester chose to follow her sexual desires despite the rigorous Puritan regulations; and ultimately agreed to take on the consequences for her actions. Despite the vast disapproval of the community, Hester’s independence prevails as she sews a refined “A” upon her dress, establishing her view on the punishment, and giving the Letter an apparent double meaning; both to represent Hester’s punishment as well as a form of Hester to restate her backing of her previous actions. She refuses to allow her bold persona and actions to be diminished by the Puritan society. Instead, Hester (along with Pearl) moves to the outskirts of town and with the help of her needle begins to produce slightly contentious fashion. She sews ornate gloves and other items for the leaders of the community; then, with her heart so sympathetic to misery, she tends the sick and dying. As a result, her tenderness and sympathy win her the admiration of many who come to develop their views on her letter and furthermore reinforce Hester’s growing dominance based on her actions across the community.
Across the novel, countless of times we see Hawthorne interchange the characteristics of the different genders. He expresses such interchangement with the narrator’s and the reader’s perception of men and women by swapping the male and female traits of character. For example, across the text we see Dimmesdale develop a sensitivity and submissiveness which were not the typical masculine qualities, while Hester is given full charge in the dilemma. She is the one who decides that they would leave Boston, and the one who is responsible for executing all the necessary arrangements. Such example is an accurate showing of the clear switch in roles between Dimmesdale and Hester. Hester is sought out to be the stronger one. This mental alteration in the two main characters is coupled by a physical alteration. Dimmesdale’s health is on the decline throughout the romance, while Hawthorne points out how Hester gradually becomes unattractive to men when he says that, “Some attribute had departed from her, the permanence of which had been essential to keep her a women.” (163) This quote evidently shows her inheritance of some very masculine qualities, which can be interpreted as a form of mental independence and once again poses Hester as the overpowering character in the novel, regardless of the gender.
An essential theme that appears time and time again across the novel is adultery, and how that impacts Hester’s relationship with Dimmesdale and Chillingworth. By committing adultery in her past marriage, Hester goes against her moral obligations towards her husband. When he arrives in Boston however, she affirms her submissivness to him by promising to keep his true identity concealed. Chillingworth’s torture on Dimmesdale proves to be too much of a burden for Hester to bare, and ultimately leads her to break her silence. By going against Chillingworth’s wishes, Hester is able to gain full independence from her husband, a rare feat for a woman at the time. We see in Chapter 8 how she explicitly analyzes the situation she has at hand, in which she decides to go against Chillingworth due to the sinful man he has become when Hawthorne states that, “She determined to redeem her error, so far as it might yet be possible. Strengthened by years of hard and solemn trial, she felt herself no longer so inadequate to cope with Roger Chillingworth . . . She had climbed her way, since then, to a higher point.” (157) In the end, it is shown again how she does not abide to Chillingworth preferences even though he is the “dominant gender” in this dilemma, similarly to how she did not abide to the Puritan authorities in the the beginning of the novel. This repeated behavior to how Hester reacts to a higher law is a signature characteristic of a Hester across the book, as well as one of a strong and stubborn women. Not only is her resistance to higher (male) authority due her gender and social status amongst the community alarming, the fact that she continues such resilience with the Scarlet letter bounded to her is considered unheard of at the time. Hawthorne indicates to the reader the minimal impact that the letter has done to Hester in Chapter 8 when he mentions that, “The Scarlet letter had not done its office.” (166) Such letter was supposed to intimidate Hester and put her in her respective subordinate place, but instead it has ignited a revolutionary feeling within. The inequality she ultimately goes through causes Hester to question the existing balance of power. It sparks an internal feeling and encourages her to formulate alternatives in regard to the traditional patriarchal society. Such alternatives are just another take on her opposed views on the traditional women’s roles. Hawthorne relates Hester’s point of view to a broader topic, one in which we finally see Hester question the severity of her actions, and whether or not the Scarlet letter is indeed repentful as portrayed when it is stated that, “She assumed a freedom of speculation . . . which our forefathers, had they known of it, would have held to be a deadlier crime than that stigmatized by the Scarlet letter” (154) Hester starts to piece things together, and realize that she did not need any justification for her actions, and that although the Scarlet letter is supposed to be holding her back, it instead propels her forward.
Hester’s evolution from a young woman with fiery and rebellious exterior to a more introvert, wiser lady who over time developed controversial and bold thoughts regarding women’s roles in her society is the crucial progression that Hawthorne uses to emphasize feminism throughout The Scarlet Letter. What started out as a battle between Hester and the Puritan officials evolved into a power struggle between Hester and all women versus society’s norm for a women’s gender role, shown through Hester’s change in role from a advocate through her actions and behavior to an advocate through her words of wisdom. Hester undoubtedly altered the way of life throughout her city (Massachusetts Bay Colony) by siding with her original beliefs and ambitions, something a women had never been able to accomplish at the time, furthermore encouraging the notion that the Scarlet Letter is a true forerunner of American feminism.
The Sin of Beauty in The Scarlet Letter
Beauty, in every form and aspect, is regarded by the general population as the eighth deadly sin. This becomes strikingly evident throughout the examination of Hester’s plight. Hester Prynne, a radiant example of elegance, begins to find reconciliation in the eyes of the public only once she extinguishes her flame of beauty. Throughout The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s condemnation of what Hester’s beauty entails is sharply contrasted with the public’s condemnation of beauty itself.
The public believed that beauty was the direct path to downfall, sin, and ignominy. At the very beginning of the novel, at the height of Hester’s shame and disgrace, she is described as “tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale” (40). This dazzling disposition, however, becomes a source of downfall for Hester. Her blatant refusal to look the part of a penitent Puritan is ill-received by the public. They interpret beauty as sin, as made evident through the self-professed Puritan saints, one of whom suggests branding the forehead of Hester; this other resident was “the ugliest as well as the most pitiless” (39). Those lacking beauty see themselves as the most worthy to pass judgment, condemning those who, in their eyes, are sinful because of their refusal to cast a shadow over their radiance. Hester is gawked at, gossiped about, and shunned from everyday life. She stands out, one bright flower in a sea of gray, making everyone around her not only suspicious, but angered by her blatant refusal to conform, which they see as synonymous with repentance and forgiveness. Hawthorne immediately brings to light the striking difference between Hester and the others. She is, from the very beginning, isolated in her own sphere of shame, kept there not only by her sexual transgressions, but by the sin and shame that her natural beauty brings her. While everyone around Hester passes judgment based upon surface level appearances, Hawthorne dives deeper, not condemning beauty, but condemning the deeper meanings and connotations of Hester’s beauty.
Hawthorne finds fault not in physical beauty, but in the condition of the heart’s interior. Hester, from the very beginning, felt the crushing weight of her sin in the deepest parts of her being. Although her outward appearance relays the attitude of a lack of repentance, she “underwent an agony from every footstep of those that thronged to see her” (41). She is genuinely regretful, and is earnestly seeking repentance for her sin. Hawthorne is initially critical of the passion that Hester’s beauty entails, not of the beauty itself. As time progresses, Hester turns from “passion and feeling, to thought” (107). In light of the dramatic shift of the deepest parts of her being, Hawthorne praises Hester and her ability to turn away from her sin. Because of this, the reader is made to perceive Hester as a protagonist, as the only one is a town brimming with religious fervor to be truly holy. Hawthorne is capable of discerning what the others cannot: true character. For example, Roger Chillingworth was “a striking evidence of man’s faculty of transforming himself into a devil” (110). Chillingworth is, in the eyes of Hawthorne, the worst sinner in the town. His heart is blackened, and he is perhaps the most unsightly character seen throughout the novel. However, despite his clear attempts at malevolence, he was a “brilliant acquisition” and was “cordially received” by the community (80). The people find no fault in Chillingworth, as he is not suspiciously radiant, nor does he stand out among the crowd. He is exceptionally average in every aspect of his physical being, causing him to be accepted and warmly welcomed into the community. Hawthorne condemns Chillingworth for his awful and sinful internal intents. The community, however, is pleased to live in ignorant bliss, accepting his outward shows of religious life, and passively refusing to look deeper into the true content of his character. Hawthorne connects internal beauty with penance and forgiveness, while the public sees the most beautiful as those with the most sin. Refusing to conform to the Puritan beliefs of an earlier time, Hawthorne condemns a number of the ugliest people in the town, looking past their outward façades, to reveal their true sin and ignominy.
Yet while Hawthorne focuses in on the internal torment of Hester, the crowd only sees her “haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed” (40). Blinded by their strict regulations and stifling laws, the public is incapable of discerning anything but the outward appearance of Hester. Her scarlet letter, “in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread,” prompts immediate assumptions concerning the condition of her heart (40). Her beauty and extravagance and brilliance cause her to be perceived as a sinner beyond repair, and as someone completely worthy of the weight of shame thrust upon her shoulders. However, as time progresses, Hester takes on a humbled countenance, by causing “the attractiveness of her person [to undergo] a…sad transformation” (107). As she extinguishes her flame of beauty, there is a notable shift in the way Hester is perceived. The town showed “its former victim a more benign countenance”, in which the people began to re-assimilate her into their society (106). At the trough of her beauty, Hester experiences the climax of public acceptance, as people turn from scoffing to admiration, from the title “Adulteress” to the title of “Able”.
Scavan Bercovitch, a scholar invested in the study of early American literature and New England Puritan culture, states that “the bond [Hester] thus forges anew with the community lends another moral interpretation to her ‘new birth’ as American” (578). Hester is recreated in the Puritan society. As she “plays the part” of a Puritan, she quietly blends in with colorless dresses and slumped shoulders. In every aspect of a Puritan community, beauty is a sin, made evident through the “sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats” (36). Hester recognizes this, and is aware that she is incapable of being completely penitent while still indulging in sin. Thus, even when she is perfectly able to flee the community of her ignominy, she chooses to return, taking up “her long-forsaken shame”, and living a quiet and humble life void of extravagance (165). Hester does this in a final attempt to reach the point of full repentance, and to find acceptance in the hearts of the people around her by exemplifying her resounding commitment to repentance. Hester herself even begins to believe that beauty is sin, and thus feels the necessity to deprive herself of it. Her lonely sphere of confinement begins to disappear, as she begins to conform to the drab and solemn way of life of the Puritan community surrounding her. This acceptance, however, is not rooted in the transformation of her inner spirit, but rather in the transformation of her appearance. Beauty, according the Puritans, was one of the ways to measure holiness. Regardless of internal conditions, beauty was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a horrible and deadly sin. Hester believes that the “force of necessity attends [her] return, together with that self-denying, self-aggrandizing quest for martyrdom” (578). While Hester does begin to find her own sense of forgiveness, the people of her community are somewhat coerced into seeing her in a pure and golden light, as she submits herself to conformity. In a society constituted by dreariness in every aspect of life, Hester finally becomes a “full-fledged” member as she breaks the barrier between herself and the others, by casting away the radiance of her aura.
Hawthorne views internal beauty as worthy of praise; the Puritans, in sharp contrast, wanted humbled external appearances. During the times of her beauty, Hester is found to be repulsive and untouchable by everyone around her. However, once she begins to cover her radiance and take on a humbled countenance, she finds acceptance and even praise from the community. Furthermore, the actions of the people surrounding Hester serve to show their belief that beauty and purity are incapable of coexisting. Hester finds forgiveness in the eyes of Hawthorne once she becomes truly repentant, while she finds acceptance in the eyes of the public only once her outward being takes on the appearance of penitence.
Bercovitch, Sacvan. The A-Politics of Ambiguity in The Scarlet Letter. The Scarlet Letter and Other Writings. Ed. Leland S. Person. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2005. 576-597. Print.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. The Scarlet Letter and Other Writings. Ed. Leland S. Person. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2005. 36-166. Print.
Hester’s Role as Both the Sinner and Saint
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us,” stated Oliver Wendell Holmes. This eventually proves to be especially true for Hester Prynne, the main character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne, a fair young maiden whose husband had disappeared two years prior to the opening of the novel, has an affair with the pastor of her Puritan church, resulting in the birth of her uncontrollable child Pearl. Because of this act of adultery, Hester Prynne is branded by the scarlet letter “A,” which she is forced to forever wear upon her attire. The plot thickens as Hester’s former husband returns to New England and becomes fixated upon the idea of revenge towards Hester’s anonymous partner in sin. At the same time, the feeble pastor slowly begins to waste away towards the gloomy gates of death. However, as those around her grow ever weaker or morally decayed, Hester grows ever stronger. Hester grows so strong and morally righteous that it appears that she is actually favored by Hawthorne despite her ³sin.² The qualities which cause Hester to be favored are her traits of helpfulness towards others, her intense maternal love towards Pearl, and her defiance and pride demonstrated towards those who attempt to impose their values upon her.
Even as those she assisted were cruel towards her, Hester remained generous and helpful towards others. For example, after becoming recognized as a talented seamstress and gradually beginning to earn fairly large sums of money, ³Hester bestowed all her superfluous means in charity, on wretches less miserable than herself, and who not unfrequently insulted the hand that fed them.² This proves that although Hester was rejected by society, she continued to care for this same community. She had such a kind nature and willingness to assist others that the fact that those whom she fed often returned the generosity with nothing but insults did not cause her to cease in her endeavors. Then, towards the end of the novel, after returning from Europe to the New England town in which she had sinned and repented numerous years before, Hester began to counsel other unfaithful women. For example, ³Hester comforted and counseled them as best she might. She assured them, too, of her firm belief, that, at some brighter period, when the world should have grown ripe for it, in Heaven’s own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness.” This also demonstrates Hester’s generosity and helpfulness. Although the New England town harbored such unpleasant memories for her, she was willing to return in order to assist others in need. She was willing to relive her own pain and absorb the pain of others in order to benefit future generations, and she was willing to give back to a society which had given nothing to her.
Hester harbored an intense love for her child Pearl although the child’s mischievous and imp-like qualities brought nothing but pain to the child’s mother. This is demonstrated as Hester, after having her talents as a seamstress publicized, began to change the attire of her family. For example, ³Her own dress was of the coarsest materials and the most somber hue; with only that one ornament,–the scarlet letter,–which it was her doom to wear. The child’s attire, on the other hand, was distinguished by a fanciful, or, we may rather say, a fantastic ingenuity, which served, indeed, to heighten the airy charm that early began to develop itself in the little girl.² This demonstrates that although Hester herself would dress only plainly in order to redeem her lost purity, she wished to make her child stand out. She had such an intense love for the child that she wanted only the absolute best for Pearl. Also, Hester was simply astounded and horrified at the idea of Pearl being taken away from her when this question was brought to the governor. This is demonstrated in the line, “‘Speak thou for me!’ cried she. ‘Thou wast my pastor, and hadst charge of my soul, and knowest me better than these men can. I will not lose the child! Speak for me! Thou knowest, – for thou hast sympathies which these men lack! – thou knowest what is in my heart, and what are a mother’s rights, and how much the stronger they are, when that mother has but her child and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will not lose the child! Look to it!’” Hester’s speech demonstrated that her only true reason for life was the child, and that if that one richness of her life was devoured by Puritan thought and society, she would have lost all. Her child was her heart, love, and life. It was all that she had left to lose, and she would do anything to protect her Pearl.
Though Hester was accused of what Puritans considered to be an extraordinarily serious crime, she remained proud and defiant. While on the scaffold, Hester ³with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbors.² Although the burning stares of the townspeople were upon her, Hester remained strong and managed a grin in order to anger the public and maintain her dignity. Also whilst upon the scaffold, Hester revealed upon her gown ³in fine red cloth surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of thread,…the letter ?A.’ ” Although Hester was meant to be chastised by the letter ³A,² rather than submissively creating a dark and bitter badge of shame, she devised a lavish embroidery more suited for an affluent queen than an outcaste of society. This lawful and silent act of rebellion proved her defiance and pride, because rather than hiding from the cruel crowd, Hester proudly displayed herself before it.
Hence, due to her generous and compassionate nature, her extreme love for her daughter Pearl, and her defiance towards the narrow-minded townspeople of her community, Hester came across as a character loved and admired by the author. In the quote mentioned in the introduction to this essay, Oliver Wendall Holmes stated that what previously had occurred and what are yet to occur are not important when compared with a person’s true nature. For Hester Prynne, though she had sinned in her past, she came across as strong and admirable because she was a benevolent person on the inside. She sought purity and truth to compensate for her unalterable past. Therefore, her wrongdoings were eventually overlooked in enlightenment of her better qualities. A coward can hind in the shadows of reputations and prejudgments, but only a hero can overcome these and manage to step into the daylight.