Character Analysis: The Scarlet Letter

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One of the most significant writers of the romantic period in American literature was Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne wrote stories that opposed the ideas of Transcendentalism. Since he had ancestors of Puritan belief, Hawthorne wrote many stories about Puritan New England: his most famous story is The Scarlet Letter. In Hawthorne's novel, life is centered on a rigid, Puritan structured society in which one is unable to divulge his or her innermost thoughts and secrets. Hester Prynne is among the first and most important female protagonists in American literature. She's the embodiment of deep contradictions: bad and beautiful, holy and sinful, conventional and radical. Throughout the novel we see the protagonist, Hester being constantly bombarded with conflict. From the beginning we see her embedded in these deep conflicts that define and shape her life. Throughout the novel, it is evident that the society that Hester Prynne finds herself in strives to follow a standardized system of values, beliefs, and morals. Hester realizes that her perception of what is right or wrong differs from that of society as a whole. “Thus she will be a living sermon against sin” (46) as her husband Roger Chillingworth believes. This was also the general feeling of the society, that she would be a living, breathing billboard of sin. Thus she was mocked and scorned: to be made the subject of many sermons: “If she entered a church trusting to share the Sabbath smile of the Universal Father, it was often her mishap to find herself the text of the discourse” (59). The Puritan society looks down upon Hester for her transgressions and feels that she is not even fit to interact with them. There was no absolution for Hester, for when she even tried to reach a hand to the poor and make clothing for them they “often reviled the hand that was stretched forth to succor them” (59). The puritan society antagonizes her to the point of oppression. There is evidence of this when the needs of the individual conflict with the Laws of a Society. Religion plays a big part in the Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne wore the Scarlet Letter to remind her of the mistake she made. Instead of taking Pearl away the people wanted her to wear the “A” for adultery. Hester's whole lifestyle was altered. She obeyed everyone and for seven years was cursed by standing on the scaffold. The people's beliefs strongly enforced the idea that Hester would wear the Scarlet Letter, so she did. It constantly forced the thought of the sin she had committed and would haunt her for good. Society was an influence on the scarlet letter. Society ostracized her because no one in the town had ever dealed with any kind of sin such as adultery. The people in a way wanted to ruin her life because people actually thought she was bad. Despite Hester’s attempts of staying strong with the sign of shame on her chest, society constantly tries to undermine her and does not let her forget her mistake. Hawthorne demonstrates society’s oppression on Hester through the scarlet letter; “Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast … the reality of sin” (55). The scarlet letter illustrates that the person wearing it is a shameful sinner. By forcing the scarlet letter upon Hester, not only does society have power over her, but they also strip Hester of her identity in exchange for her to be the symbol of adultery, shame, and sin. After her trial, Hester becomes more reserved and contemplative about human nature and God, believing them to be her teachers in her punishment, contrasting the passionate woman she was before her affair. Roger Chillingworth provides as the ideal “bad guy” for this novel. Chillingworth is a name that has a strong connotation of evil. The word chill has meanings similar to the word cold. Having the suffix worth makes his name mean, of cold value. Cold is usually associated with evil: this can be seen in expressions like cold hearted....
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