Analysis of Feminist Criticism in "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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One of the most prominent characters in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" is Hester Prynne, the young adulteress whose forbidden actions have led her to become a representation of sin to the Puritanic community around her. However, these negative views of her ironically grant Hester Prynne the freedom to govern her own life, without the rigid constrictions of the patriarchal society in which she lives.

During the time period that Hester lives in, women were generally treated as inferior and incompetent beings. Hester however, is portrayed as a strong and independent character. All the women in Hester's town are tied to a man, whether it is a father or a husband or a brother, who makes decisions for them, and supports them financially. Hester has no obligatory ties to a male figure, and can therefore make all her own decisions. She is also required to work to support herself, as she has no male figure to depend on for financial income. In the book, Hester fully supports both herself and her daughter, Pearl, by selling her needlework. Both her lack of a male guide and how she independently works to support herself are strong indications that Hester is a self-sufficient and independent woman, who does not need a man to help her survive.

Despite the fact that Hester is entirely capable of sustaining herself and Pearl, many of the town's authority figures still look down upon her. At one point in the novel, a group of the leading male authorities tried to take Pearl away from her mother, because of a strange misconception that Pearl was not being properly cared for. Old Reverend John Wilson tries to explain, "The child shall be well cared for! - Far better than thou canst do it" (Hawthorne 103). With this one quote, Hester is both patronized and demeaned by the old minister. He is insulting her capabilities as a mother, and at the same time trying to cajole her into giving up her only child. On a more vague level, the old man is also insulting Hester's...
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