The Scarlet Letter: A Character Analysis of Hester Prynne
In Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, we meet very interesting and detailed characters, including the main protagonist, Hester Prynne. Hester goes through quite a few changes throughout the novel, both emotional and physical.
From the start of the book, we don’t know much about Hester’s life, except that she was married to a man by the name of Roger Chillingworth, who had actually sent Hester alone for two years to Massachusetts while he finished business, and she has a three month old baby. The book starts off with Hester being known as a criminal. No one expects her to have such delicacy to her until she emerges from the prison. As Hawthorne says, “The young women was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance, on a large scale.” (Hawthorne 46), we can infer that Hester is a very beautiful women. She shines with such magnificence, that the sun light shines down on her. Although Hawthorne repeatedly uses the sun’s light as a symbol of goodness, Hester is seen by society as the opposite. She is made to wear the letter ‘A’ on her for committing the crime of Adultery. Though, by the end of the book, we notice how Hester has seem to have loss her elegance, and she feels as if she has too. Hawthorne notes, “As if there were a withering spell in the sad letter, her beauty, the warmth and richness of her womanhood, departed like fading sunshine, and a gray shadow seemed to fall across her.” (Hawthorne 174), and we once again see how sunlight is brought into text. Instead of the Hester attracting in the sunlight, the light now hides from her. Hester notices, and so does her daughter, Pearl, who is seven at the time. Pearl even tells Hester: “’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. Now see! There it is, playing, a good way off.’” In the beginning of the book, the sunshine pulls towards Hester, due to the fact she has no secrets. Everyone knows she is the adulteress. However, later on in the novel, she hides to her daughter what the A means, and also she hides who Pearl’s father is. Due to these unconfessed secrets, the sunshine now frays away from Hester.
The ‘A’ on Hester’s chest might symbolizing a sin, and would usually cause a great deal of humiliation. As Hawthorne confirms, “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 her townspeople and neighbors.” (Hawthorne 46), Hester refuses to coward down to the embarrassment and let her peers mock her. Hester’s strong-willed personality doesn’t change much throughout the story. She stands up many other things other than the A itself. She speaks up and silences the Governor and Dimmesdale when they demand to take Pearl away from her.
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