Critical Analysis: the Scarlet Letter

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Critical Analysis: the Scarlet Letter

By | December 2005
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In the book The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is convicted of adultery and ordered to wear the scarlet letter "A" on her chest as a permanent sign of her sin. Hester is sentenced to never take off this badge of shame, and doesn't until chapter thirteen. As the novel proceeds, Hawthorne presents several questions that are left unanswered. How does the nature of the letter "A" seem to change? What role of does Hester's own response to her situation play in changing the meaning of the letter "A"? How does the letter "A" come to be seen as a symbol of the mysterious connection between human experiences (sinful in nature) and a kind of wisdom that would be impossible without failure? Why does Hester not tell who Pearl's father is when she is on the scaffold?

Hawthorne does not tell us very much about Hester's life before the book opens. Actually, the passionate moment between Hester and Arthur that the whole book is centered around was left out. Hawthorne relies more on the emotional and psychological drama that surrounds Hester, than action. Hawthorne shows us how remarkable Hester's character is, revealed through her public humiliation, and her isolated life in Puritan society. Her inner strength and compassion may have been there the whole time, as we don't know because we weren't told anything about Hester before the book opens, but the scarlet "A" does bring all these qualities to our attention as we read the book.

Hester is physically described in the first scaffold scene as a tall young woman with a "figure of perfect elegance on a large scale." Her most impressive feature is her "dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam." Her complexion is rich, her eyes are dark and deep, and her regular features give her a beautiful face. Contrast this with her appearance after seven years of punishment for her sin. Her beautiful hair is hidden under her cap; her beauty and warmth are gone, buried under the burden of the elaborate...

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