The Scarlet Letter
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Hester Prynne as Heroine
In The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne Prynne redefines herself despite being shunned by the Puritan community. Although she has sinned, she does not dwell in the past. She grows stronger as a person from the cruelty of the townspeople and the shame they place on Hester. Though everything seems to go wrong for Hester, the story ends in her favor. Hester grows stronger than both Dimmesdale and Chillingworth. She becomes the voice of those who have sinned, and shows her caring and resilient nature even under the spell of the letter.
Although Hester is shunned by her community, she upholds herself with strength and acceptance. In the beginning of the story, the reader first meets Hester as she exits the prison while the townspeople watch. Hester is holding her child, a symbol of her sin of adultery, and is marked with an embroidered letter “A” on her dress. The women of the town gossip about Hester, and remark that Hester’s beautiful embroidery skills of the letter that was meant to be her punishment have made it appear as if she is proud of her sins. However, Hester is only making the best out of her situation. Although the townspeople expect Hester to be ashamed and embarrassed, she turns the other cheek: “Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped” (37). Hester shows her strength by refusing to crumble under public humiliation and being branded as punishment for her sin. She accepts her wrongdoings with grace and stands her ground: “In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at the townspeople and her neighbors” (37). This event is an example of Hester’s strength shining through her dark circumstances, and it is the beginning of her journey towards accepting her sin and becoming a better person because of it.
While Hester is vulnerable early in the novel, she develops confidence and a new perspective as an outsider, and then shows her dominance of Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth. While Dimmesdale’s sanity is deteriorating, Hester is finding peace with her sin and the letter. “‘Hester,’ said he, ‘hast thou found peace?’ She smiled drearily, looking down upon her bosom. ‘Hast thou?’ She asked. ‘None!-nothing but despair!’ He answered” (131). During the conversation between Hester and Dimmesdale, Dimmesdale is depressed and distraught, while Hester is calm and comforting. This is ironic because it was Hester who was publicly punished for her sins, yet Dimmesdale is letting his secret sin ruin his life. The shame Hester is expected to experience is affecting Dimmesdale instead. Hester also becomes impatient with Chillingworth’s evil and decides to meet with him. She explains that he no longer intimidates her thanks to her new found strength, and that she has risen above him: “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. The old man, on the other hand, had brought himself nearer to her level, or perhaps below it, by the revenge which he had stooped for.” (115). Hester’s newfound confidence allows her to find peace and prosper above Dimmesdale and Chillingworth.
Hester finding peace with herself and her scarlet letter is another example of her ability to overcome challenges and isolation. Overtime, she becomes more and more accepted by the townspeople as they recognize Hester as an important part of the community. Hester has been under the radar and has lived a pure life since the incident, which softens the attitude of the townspeople. Hester also offers guidance and comfort towards others who have sinned. “Her breast, with its badge of shame, was but the softer pillow for the head that needed one” (111). She becomes known as a “Sister of Mercy,” and the symbol of her letter actually shifts to mean “Able”. “The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her,—so much power to do, and power to sympathize,—that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength.” (148) Hester generously uses her new perspective that she gained from her punishment to help others, and in return is well received by the townspeople as a strong woman.
Though Hester Prynne suffers through cruel punishment and isolation due to her sin, she does so without letting it destroy her character. She perseveres through her circumstances and gains strength and perspective. She also turns her pain into the ability to sympathize with others. While the men hold the power in the beginning of the story, she triumphs over both Dimmesdale and Chillingworth by the end because she accepts her sin as a part of her life and attempts to make the best of it. Hester Prynne ignores the shameful symbolism of the scarlet letter and makes it a symbol of her own strength.
The Scarlet Letter By Nathaniel Hawthorne: What’s Special about It’s Romantic Heroine
Hester Prynne is considered to be both one of the first heroines and feminist icons in American Literature. This is despite Nathaniel Hawthorne, born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, being labelled as a misogynist, threatened by the growing feminist movement. How Hawthorne portrays his female protagonist and her interactions with the overbearing society around her prove that Hester Prynne is in fact the female heroine of “The Scarlet Letter”.
A Romantic Heroine is defined as a person who chooses not to conform to the flaws of society, but rather rises above them. Common traits of Romantic Heroes are isolation and regret for his or her actions. A heroine is a woman of distinguished courage or ability, possessing good character judgement and morals. Both descriptions apply to Hester Prynne. Although Hester is beautiful, which is described as shining behind her as if to make a “halo of the misfortune”, her beauty barely compares to her strength of character. We first meet the incredibly strong Hester on the scaffold with Pearl in her arms, beginning her punishment. The first description of Pearl notes her “natural dignity and force of character”. Despite feeling as though “her heart had been flung into the street for them to spurn and trample”, her face did not reveal her thoughts and her demeaner is described as “haughty”. Even though she has just stepped out of prison, her actions are described to be of her own free will. Hester also endures her punishment and the judgement alone. She does not succumb to the pressure of revealing Dimmesdale as the father and when she is told to “speak out the name of thy fellow sinner”, she refuses. Her loyalty and love for Dimmesdale is admirable. Hester also shows emotional strength by remaining in Boston and facing the humiliation rather than running away. She stays even though she is “alone, apart, a living critic of society”.
Hester is a devoted mother, even though she knows her daughter will be at a disadvantage because of her absent father. She names her daughter Pearl because she was “of great price-purchased with all she had, her mother’s only treasure”. Hester names her Pearl to associate purity and innocence with her rather than sin. Hester fought the authorities who tried to take her child away and provided for herself and her Pearl. The simple fact that Hester is able to raise her child while her punishment is ongoing shows her determination. Rather than seeing Pearl as a representation of her sin or the Scarlet Letter in another form, Hester chooses to see Pearl as a gift from God—the only company and link to humanity that she will have now that she is ostracised.
Despite being publicly humiliated by the Puritans, Hester remains kind and humble. Because she is shunned by her community, she has no friends or obligations. Her time is split between being in solitude or helping those in need such as the governor whom she sat with as he died and her charitable work. She does good deeds despite the people she helps not showing her the same generosity in return. Through her pious actions, Hester turned the A into a symbol of her good will, taking away the shame it was intended to represent. Rather than meaning “Adulterer”, the Scarlet Letter represented “Angel” or “Able”. In addition, Hester does not dress lavishly even though she had the ability to make beautifully embroidered clothing and hides her beauty by wearing the typical Puritan clothing.
In Chapter Five, “Hester at Her Needle”, the reader discovers that she independently supports herself and Pearl. This would not have been an easy task at the time. Hester becomes a seamstress and creates beautiful garments even though Puritans are supposed to be against such luxuries. Hawthorne describes her talent by saying “she had in her nature a rich, voluptuous, Oriental characteristic—a taste for the gorgeously beautiful”. There is irony present in the elaborate needlework of the Scarlet Letter. It is described as “fantastic flourishes of gold thread” and the letter is decorative, going against the laws that demand sombre, unadorned attire.
Hester made a difference to the Puritan society. Hester was not only able to survive the strict rules set by the Puritans but she also broke them and was able to emerge as a powerful female character respected by the other women in the community. A feminist movement was underway when Hawthorne wrote “The Scarlet Letter” and the patriarchy was being challenged by women in America, which resulted in a shift in female societal roles. Hawthorne himself was threatened by the growing feminist movement that could possibly displace his position in the literary world. Feminist critics could argue that Hester is the embodiment of strong-willed feminist women and thus is an important and complex heroine in American literature.
It could be argued that Hester Prynne is a transcendentalist. This term describes an optimistic person who has faith in the future, loves and sees God in nature. They are also honest and individualistic; much like Hester and her beliefs. Although she was scorned from society, she never tried to hide her mistakes. On the other hand, Dimmesdale made it appear like he did nothing wrong. He covered up his mistakes to protect his status. Hester followed her heart, not deliberately breaking the Puritans rules. Hawthorne says “the Scarlet Letter is a passport into regions where other women dare not tread… and they made her strong.”
On the other hand, some critics believe that Hester is not the heroine of the story. Some believe that rather than a heroine, Hester is a martyr or a victim to the Puritan society as they manage to destroy all happiness from her life with their rules and regulations. However, Hester can also be seen as a temptress, much like Eve from the Garden of Eden, as she enticed Dimmesdale with her beauty and made him commit a sin. Hester repeatedly provides evidence that she does not feel guilt for her sins which makes some readers believe she is not a heroic character.
Overall, I believe Hester Prynne is in fact the heroine of The Scarlet Letter. This is because Hester possessed the characteristics and traits common in heroes in literature and she sacrifices herself in order to save the person she loves.
Analysis Of ”Scarlet Letter” By Nathaniel Hawthorne
The “Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a gothic romance of a public suffering adulter, Hester Prynne, and an unnamed to the public, but a private suffering adulter Reverend Dimmesdale. Hester has to wear a Scarlet Letter “A” due to her committing adultery with Dimmesdale. Puritan beliefs prohibit the community to forgive and move on about her unruly sin, therefore she is shunned by other Puritans. Dimmesdale, a well respected Puritan minister, is privately suffering from great guilt and self-conscious shame. Throughout the novel, Pearl, the devilish daughter of Hester Prynne, represents the ever-changing dynamic Scarlet Letter.
She is Hester’s private way of suffering. Roger, the husband of Hester, is another way of punishing Dimmesdale and increasing his guilt. Roger is not seeking justice. He is instead seeking revenge. He intentionally tries to destruct others, rather than tell them about their wrongs, again with Dimmesdale’s private suffering. Hester committed adultery with Dimmesdale, during this time period it was a capital sin that required the execution of both the adulterers. Sometimes instead of execution, they would serve public corporal punishment. Therefore Hester was punished dearly with 3 long dreaded hours of standing in front of the entire community on the scaffold. She also will have to wear the Scarlet Letter “A” on her bosom for the rest of her life. Hester is now going to be an outlaw with people shunning and making fun of her for the rest of her days. Hester’s humane acts of helping others in her community still did not benefit her situation.
The private and nonprivate torture that Dimmesdale goes through is more than enough punishment for them committing adultery. He is more wretched as he imposes a false or fake appearance while trying to maintain divinity. Dimmesdale’s innocence is conscious and manipulated. He even tries to come out to the community and confess on a numerous amount of times that he is the father of Pearl, but he is too weak to do so. He constantly throughout the novel tries to convince people that he is the worst sinner but people become joyous to him more and more, getting the aspect and inferring that he is really “humble”. He does not want to conceal the act of adultery because of his morals, but his degraded state does not allow him to confess. His sin leads him away from his goal of priesthood, and he becomes a victim of his own morbid imagination. Hester was not only punished by the townspeople she was also punished dearly by Pearl.
Pearl was a consistent and constant reminder to Hester of the terribly sin that she had committed, and that she could not take it back. Hester’s life would be ruined for the rest of her life, that is the great price that she paid for Pearl. Pearl caused Hester’s life to never be filled with joy. She continually constantly nagged and harassed her mother over the “A” which she had to wear day in and day out. She would harass her to the point she would make her own Scarlet Letter to wear, and sometimes this would include her playing games with her mothers, by trying to his it vigorously with rocks. Pearl would also decorate it which would remind her of the sin. Some of Pearl’s actions would reflect the desolation of Hester’s social life and her mental state. Throughout the book numerous times Pearl would get made fun off. Pearl would always respond like a demon-possessed baby. Even though Hester had so much trouble with Pearl, she took into account that this was another one of her consequences for cheating on her husband Roger and for sinning. Chillingworth’s vindictiveness dehumanizes him and turns him into a wretched person. He is a worse sinner than either Hester or Dimmesdale. Chillingworth is a pearl to Dimmesdale. While tempers with the nature of Dimmesdale, by making him feel guilty and shameful for his sin.
While he feels no guilt of the paint that he is causing Dimmesdale. He causes him to to complete mental, emotional, and physical insanity. In the “Scarlet Letter”, the “A” is represented in numerous amount ways. One way is through, public suffering such as Hester in her every day, life. Another way is the private suffering Arthur Dimmesdale while being greatly tormented by Roger. Dimmesdale was eaten alive by his moral beliefs. Dynamic meanings of physical representations, Pearl along with the constant reminder to Hester that this is the result of her committing adultery. Revenge and decisiveness brought by Roger through torturing Dimmesdale, mentally which causes him to hurt himself physically.
Leitmotif of Public Self Versus Private Self in “The Scarlet Letter”
One of the major themes in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” is the idea of the public self as distinguished from the private self. This leitmotif encompasses much more than the idea of an individual versus society; it also contains the themes of hidden thoughts versus candid speech, staying true to self versus meeting social expectations, and freedom through self-actualization versus restriction through self-denial. The story develops three characters that represent different schools of thought regarding the contrast between the public and private self. Understanding the mindset and the approaches of each of these characters, as well as how they reconcile their two personas, is paramount in discerning Hawthorne’s message.
The first character, Hester Prynne, has the most consistency between her public and private persona. From the opening of the book to the closing, her public image mirrors her private thoughts and actions. Having already failed society’s expectations, she is altruistic, reserved, and free to think about life in unorthodox ways. In the public setting, she does not retaliate against the masses’ derogatory opinions of her nor try to change their feelings; she instead accepts people, ideas, and attitudes at their face value. She conducts herself similarly in private.
This aspect of Hester’s character is seen in her relationships with Pearl, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth. First, Hester does not place harsh restrictions upon Pearl; she generally lets her daughter do whatever the child wants. Hester only steps in to correct Pearl when Hester believes her daughter is behaving inappropriately. Hester takes Pearl at face value, and acts accordingly in response; she does not try to govern Pearl to produce a desired outcome.
This aspect of Hester reveals that she is not the type of person to dogmatically assert her own beliefs and opinions on others. She is content to accept the world and the people around her for what they are and make the best of them, regardless of her feelings. This approach to life can be seen in her public persona when she readily submits to her punishment of wearing the ignominious scarlet letter: accepting her fate and society’s viewpoint. She does not agree necessarily with them, but she is willing to put her own emotions aside to appease others. This desire to appease others may also be noted in the extensive amounts of time Hester took to take care of the marginalized of society.
Hester’s private behavior with Dimmesdale is different than in public, but she still stays true to herself in both scenarios. Her thinking is the same; however she voices her opinions in private while keeping quiet about them in public. Publicly, she does not try to sway Dimmesdale in either direction as redemption is sought for his transgressions: she leaves him alone. In private, however, she expresses her concerns and suggestions to him. Hester’s approach is governed by her desire to appease Dimmesdale. She sees that Dimmesdale does not want to discuss their affair before the community, so she stays taciturn. However, when she sees his private turmoil, she follows suit by talking to him about it privately. This further demonstrates Hester’s kind, reserved, and accepting nature: both clandestinely and publicly.
Even with her abhorred husband, Roger Chillingworth, Hester shows a degree of submission and altruism. She abides by Chillingworth’s request to not reveal his true identity to the public. The only time she privately confronts him is to demand that he stop torturing Dimmesdale. Even this action had nothing to do with Hester’s prior disgust with Chillingworth; it was simply to ameliorate Dimmesdale’s suffering. This once again shows Hester’s desire to appease people.
Hester’s character is a testament to the good that comes from staying true to self, regardless of setting. In public, she appeases the people by honoring her punishment and helps them by caring for the sick and making garments. In private, she still strives to appease others and assist them. By staying true to self and not vacillating between two separate modi operandi, covertly and openly, she attains the greatest level of enlightenment and redemption out of all Hawthorne’s characters.
Roger Chillingworth’s character demonstrates the atrocities that occur when a person’s public self is completely divergent and illegitimate to his private self. He presents himself as a kindly old man who is there to assist the town with their illnesses, namely Dimmesdale’s illness. However, in private, he is a maleficent angel of death who is there to twist the knife already placed in Dimmesdale’s heart. In public, he puts on the facade of caring about Dimmesdale’s medical condition and wanting to make it better; he appears to be ignorant of the exact cause of Dimmesdale’s suffering. This public display is completely fraudulent. In private, Chillingworth knows that Dimmesdale is Hester’s lover, and the vengeful old man’s only reason for assisting the young reverend is to further Dimmesdale’s suffering. Revenge is the poison that pervades all of Chillingworth’s actions. However, he hides these motives from the town. This concealment of his private self from the outside world devolves his initial drive for reconciliation and justified anger into unhealthy, corrupted animosity. Hester confronts Chillingworth about the matter, but Chillingworth denies the opportunity to end the downward spiral, which marks his full transformation into wickedness. Perhaps if Chillingworth had made known his identity and his intentions to the public, then he could have ended his personal rage before it consumed him.
The character of Dimmesdale is defined by his piety; it is his greatest asset, and yet it is his undoing. His affair with Hester, in his mind, forever broke his own sense of piety and righteousness. However, he strays from his new self-assessment of himself and still participates in the religious activities of a reverend. This alone constitutes a discrepancy between private self-esteem and public image. Furthermore, by vaguely claiming to the public he is indeed a sinner, the population further reveres him. This provides an even starker contrast between Dimmesdale’s public image and his own private view of himself, which feeds him the idea that his private self is the truer, more confidable side. Ergo, when he decides that he has to declare and atone for his sins, he opts to do so in a private setting. His own judgment then becomes impaired because he is only exposed to his own view and bias, without any empathy or alternate counsel from anyone else.
Because Dimmesdale has rejected all public opinions of him as false and uneducated, the alternate view that Hester finally does present him with warrants no credibility. While Dimmesdale is somewhat consistent because he acts miserably in both public and private, and says that he is a sinner in both settings, the two are weighted differently in his mind. Dimmesdale’s character exposes that it takes more than just acting the same in private and public; one must also balance and value the two equally. He invested too much time, energy, emotion, and faith into the private, which ultimately sapped him of all the liberation that could have come from a public reckoning.
From the three aforementioned characters, it becomes apparent that Hawthorne wanted to reveal personal peace and growth come through reconciliation and alignment of an individual’s private and public self. Chillingworth, who did not do this, became so depraved that Hester noted the ground where he stood seemed to swell with darkness, and Pearl started calling him “the Black Man”, which was synonymous with the devil’s name. Dimmesdale, who only left a meager amount of his private self open to the public, went into decline because he did not let the meditations of his heart equally permeate and resound through both the private and the public. In juxtaposition to Chillingworth and Dimmesdale is Hester Prynne. She stayed true to herself and let that be the guiding force for all her actions. Subsequently, she matured throughout the story and became a revered figure, despite the initial stigma she inherited with the scarlet letter. Through these three characters, Hawthorne wanted to show the imperative of refraining from deceiving the public about whom one truly is. He wanted to show that humanity’s nature is essentially corrupt and malignant, and the way to overcome this innate malice is not to hide it, but to share it publicly so that one may be liberated through the consistency and accountability that come along with being open with society and with self.
The Scarlet Letter: Literature Review
The author of my book is Nathaniel Hawthorne. He was born in Salem, Massachusetts. The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850, followed by his other famous book, “The House of Seven Gables” which was published in 1851. Something that is common between the two books is that they both have elements of Gothic and fiction. Even though gothic is not the main genre of Scarlet Letter, it is a Gothic novel because of the forbidden love that the main character has outside of her marriage. An affair was considered a crime in the time period the book is set in. The main genre of this book is historical fiction. It is set in 17th century Boston, where the people believed in the Devil, witches, and a vengeful God. Even though the book is historically accurate, other elements of the writing make it fictional.
The book tells the story of Hester Prynne, who has committed the crime of adultery. She gives birth to a baby girl and refuses to reveal the baby’s father. As a punishment, she is forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” which makes her an adulteress. Her cowardly lover, who is a clergyman doesn’t confess to his crime for 7 years. Considering his position as a priest, he is guilt-stricken because he has committed a sin in the eyes of God. Her husband who was thought to be dead begins to live under a new name in order to find Hester’s lover.
“Man had marked this woman’s sin by a scarlet letter, which had such potent and disastrous efficacy that no human sympathy could reach her, save it was sinful like herself. God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished, had given her a lovely child, whose place was on that same dishonored bosom, to connect her parent for ever with the race and descent of mortals, and to be finally a blessed soul in Heaven!” (Hawthorne 84)
Upon reading this passage for the first time, as a reader, I was able to empathize with Hester. The passage symbolizes two ironies. Firstly, the scarlet letter which was supposed to be a punishment is actually beautiful as it is the place where now Pearl rests. The other irony is Pearl herself as, “God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished, had given her a lovely child” (Hawthorne 84) in return for her actions.
This book has a diverse number of themes, but my focus is the emotions presented in the book, which are also some of the themes. The emotions that I’m going to analyze are alienation, confession, persecution, sin, redemption, and guilt.
Media Creation Analysis
The form that I am focusing on is symbolism in the book. The symbol that I am going to refer to is a scaffold. A scaffold is a raised wooden platform used formerly for the public execution of criminals. There are three scaffold scenes in the book. All of the four main characters were present together in these scenes.
In order to explain my pictures, I’ll tell you what happened in each of the scenes. In the first scaffold scene, Hester walks out of the prison door with her 3 months old daughter. she walks through the public and climbs up the scaffold. As she is walking through the public they are talking about the symbol on her chest. Hester and Pearl are publicly persecuted, while the man whom she committed adultery with stands quietly in the public. She is interrogated by the town’s officials. Hester’s husband is also present at the scene and learns of her crime. He develops an evil impulse to take revenge on her. Throughout her humiliation, she copes with all the emotions alone at the scaffold. In the second scaffold scene, it is Dimmesdale who climbs the scaffold during the night. He hopes that he can confess his sin publicly and be cleansed through confession. Dimmesdale climbs the scaffold on his own accord, unlike Hester who was forced to climb the scaffold. While in Hester’s case, the scaffold symbolized humiliation, in Dimmesdale’s case it is more of a symbol of salvation as he uses the scaffold as an escape to lessen the anguish in his soul. He is later joined by Hester and Pearl. At this moment, the emotions that the scaffold represented in the first scenes are now that of bondage between the family. The family is now away from the society that will punish them for their crime. Hester’s husband is also present at the scene as a representation of evil. The final scene’s atmosphere is similar to that of the first. Again, all of the main characters are present at the scene. At this time, Dimmesdale confesses to his sin publicly while giving a sermon. He frees himself of the guilt and redeems himself. He dies at the scaffold after confessing.
I would recommend this book because the situation can be related to today’s society. A woman would be judged by the society and the law for having an affair without any explanations from her. While a man would still be let off the hook. The book paints a great picture of early America and about their morality and hypocrisy. While reading the book the author’s style was difficult to understand but when reading carefully, it is very interesting to read because of the use of imagery, symbolism, and irony. There are many parallels in this book to what we have read in the semester. I am connecting my book to Frankenstein. In Frankenstein, the creature demonstrates the basic human needs like food, shelter, companionship, and acceptance. However, he is judged based on his appearance and isolated by the society and abandoned by his father. Yet, we see the innocence in his character. He shows his human side to the world and wants to live a normal life, but he isn’t given the option to. While in The Scarlet Letter, Hester is forced to wear the scarlet letter A which represents adultery. Because of that, she is always judged by the public whenever she is in the marketplace. Hester and her daughter are isolated from the society and they have no one in their life except for each other. In both novels, we see how the two characters are treated in a similar way by the society and yet their outcome is so different. The creature goes on to take his revenge while Hester is more accepted by the society. The journey of their suffering is presented in such a way that a reader can feel sympathy for them. Lastly, what makes this book worth reading is that the author highlighted both the religion’s strengths and weaknesses. His knowledge of their beliefs and views on their lifestyles can be seen through the character themselves.