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.
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