Feminism in the Scarlet Letter

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Jane Jonga
Research Paper
11 March 2008
Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne and Feminism
“In Heaven’s own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness” (ch.24).The definition of feminism would be women are inherently equal to men and deserve equal rights and opportunities. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is the key example for feminism in the novel. In Puritan times, women were thought of as lesser than men. Women’s purposes were to raise children and give them good morals and values. Women did not have jobs; they wore the plainest clothes, and sat quietly by their husbands’ sides. Passion and happiness were considered to be a sin in the Puritan faith. Hester Prynne has to overcome many obstacles in the novel, emotionally, socially, and psychologically. Living in a Puritan Society, where they had strict rules that everyone had to abide by, the society showed that men overruled women, and women were subjects to men. Hester’s place within Puritan society changes within the novel, where she defies male authority. In the novel The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the key character is Hester Prynne who has to wear the Letter “A”, on her bodice of every garment. “Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter. Come therefore, and let us fling mud at her” (Hawthorne, ch2). The scarlet letter is a visible sign of her sin, so that everyone is able to see and judge Hester. She is not able to go anywhere without people running away from her, because they do not want to catch her evil spirits. The scarlet letter has made Hester an outsider of her own community. Socially Hester Prynne’s place in the Puritan community and her attitude towards Puritan authority changes throughout the novel. “The predominating quality of Puritan life was hard, good sense, a good sense which could value the realities of life while it rejected the frivolities, a good sense to which buttered cakes, water tight boots, and a pretty, or a kind husband could endear themselves” (Trollope 204). Hester does not submit herself to male authority or the laws made by men, only to her own inner laws. When Hester is brought on the scaffold as one of her punishments, so the public can judge and criticize her, she still doesn’t reveal the identity of the minister. “In the middle of the town, on the public scaffold, under gaze of all men” (Trollope 208) .This shows her defiance to male authority, because she refuses to tell authority, whom her companion is, but still stands strong in front of everyone looking at her with shame in their eyes. During the novel Hawthorne plays around with characteristics of gender as he switches male and female traits of character. “Dimmesdale’s lying to the public and to himself is a greater sin than his adultery” (Johnson 207). Arthur Dimmesdale is shown as a minister who is torn between the Puritan society and doing what is morally right, and accepting that he is the father of Pearl. Letting Hester take all the blame for their affair and not stepping up, this is stereotypically not manlike, while Hester takes charge, and makes most of the decisions, she is the one who decides to go to Boston, and makes all the arrangements. Hester is the stronger one out of the two of them, it is like Hester and Dimmesdale have traded places. “Though the very shame is eating into his soul, he lives through the seven years of the novel, a witness of her misery and solitude, while he himself is surrounded by the very glory of sanctity” (Trollope 205), this change in gender eventually starts to show physically on both Hester, “Some attribute had departed from her, the permanence of which had been essential to keep her a woman"(ch.2), and Dimmesdale whose Health gets worse throughout the course of the novel, “Though the reader as well as the community thinks of only Hester as a wearer of the scarlet letter, we know...
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