The Scarlet Letter Essay, Research Paper
A Critical Analysis of Hester Prynne
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was written in 1849. This novel won him much fame and a good reputation as a writer. In writing The Scarlet Letter, Hawethorne was creating a form of fiction he called the psychological romance. A psychological romance is a story that contains all of the conventional trappings of a typical romance, but deeply portrays humans in conflict with themselves. The Scarlet Letter won Hawthorne great critical acclaim, and even today the book remains on the best seller list. The Scarlet Letter is so popular maybe because generations of readers can interpret it and see subtle meanings that somewhat reflect their own lives. Each of us, has goodness like Hester Prynne, cowardice like Dimmesdale, and even a little evil like Chillingworth. My favorite character in this book was Hester Prynne because even tough she has done wrong, she remains happy, solid, and sane. In the following essay I plan to critically analyze the novel’s protagonist, Hester Prynne.
Hester Prynne is a young woman who was sent to the colonies by her husband, who plans to join her later but is presumed lost at sea. She is a symbol of the aknowledged sinner; a person
whose sin has been recognized but has sought repentance. Hester is the public sinner who shows the effect of her punishment on her human nature. She is seen as a fallen woman in the eyes of the village people. Over the seven years of her punishment Hester’s internal struggle with her sin changes from a victim of Puritanical judgement to being a smart woman who is in tune with human nature. When she meets Dimmesdale in the forest in Chapter 18, Hawthorne says, “ The tendency of her fate and fortunes had been to set her free. The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread.”
What is most remarkeable about Hester Prynne is her strength of character. Her inner strength and honesty and her compassion to others, even ones that have condemned her is what is brought to the reader’s attention throughout the novel. At the beginning of the novel Hester is described as a radiant beauty, however seven years later her beauty is gone and the beautiful hair that she once had is hidden underneath a cap that she wears. In Chapter 13, she removes the cap and the letter “A” and she becomes the beautiful person that she was before her punishment. I think that this is symbolic in that when she removes her cap and letter she taking off the harsh structure of Puritan society. When Pearl demands that she put back on her cap and letter “ her beauty, the warnth and richness of her womanhood, departed, like
fading sunshine; and a gray shadow seemed to fall across her.” While her punishment does change her physical appearance, it has a deeper impact on her character.
Despite the lonely life that she leads Hester somehow finds an inner strength to defy both the townspeople and the local government. Hester’s strength is apparent also in dealing with her husband, Chillingworth and her lover, Dimmesdale. This source of strength comes from recognizing her sin and dealing with the consequences. She has nothing but the strength of her spirit to sustain her. This inner peace that she has is recognized by the changing attitude of the community when they begin to think of her not as an adulterer but as an angel of goodness. Hester was also honest. She openly acknowledges her sin and does not try to hide the letter from the townspeople, but wears it with dignity. By recognizing her sin she remains sane, even though her life had been difficult and somewhat bitter.
Finally Hester becomes an angel of compassion and mercy who eventually lives out a life as a figure of sensitivity in the community. She becomes known for her charitable deeds by helping the poor and suffering. Her shame in herself by the judgements of others make her respond to other victims of society and of the world. In time the Puritan society sees the letter not as meaning adultery, but as “angel” or “able”. She being a victim of the harsh society in which she lived made her more sensitive
to other victims of society. Her sensitivity turns her symbolic meaning from a person whose life was originally sinful and of an evil nature to a woman who is strong and sensitive with a respect for treating people kindly and with respect.
In her final years “the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world’s scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something the world sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with reverence too.” Since her character is strongly tied to the scarlet letter, Hester represents the public sinner who changes and learns from her own sorrow to understand the
humanity of others. Often when people suffer a great loss in their lives or experiences that change their lives they become survivors with an increased understanding and sympathy for the human losses of others. I think that Hester is such a symbol because she triumphed over tragedy. She went against society for the love of a man. Even though she was wrong in committing adultry the love that she had for Dimmesdale broke through the bonds of her marriage to Chillingworth.
In the end, Hester’s strength, honesty, and sensitivity carry her down the pathway of life. While Dimmesdale dies on the scaffold after his confession and Chillingworth dies of his own bitter hatred , she lives on enduring a quiet life in Colonial Boston. The scarlet letter made her what she was and through her suffering she became a stronger person and found peace.