English III H P.3
October 16, 2012
The Scarlet Letter
Regret as a verb is defined as “to feel sorry about something previously done that now appears wrong.” Throughout The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses characterizations to illustrate Hester Prynne’s journey of overcoming her regret, adultery, on which this whole book is written. The puritan people intended to shame Hester when she is branded a sinner with the use of a scarlet colored “A”, but Hester learns to embrace the “A” and transforms the meaning of her punishment into something positive.
Hester starts out as a young woman with a new baby as evidence of her adulterous affair with Arthur Dimmesdale, minister of Boston. Her husband had sent her to New England two years before and was supposedly lost at sea. After being sent to jail, Hester is now feeling extreme remorse for her actions. After a few nights Hester receives a package, upon opening it she unwraps her new identity. Reaching for it Hester explains her feelings about this package: “[. . .] I happened to place it upon my breast [. . .] It seemed to me then, that I experienced a sensation not all together physical, yet almost so, as of burning heat; and as if the letter were not of red cloth, but of red-hot iron [. . .]” (Hawthorne 31). This red-hot iron is symbolic of the cruelty and exile she is about to endure. Dr. Stephanie Carrez, a professor in France, believes, “the signification of the letter is conveyed through this sensation, since the letter Hester bears in fact replaces the letter that should have been branded on her breast” (Stephanie Carrez). While Hester’s reaction to the letter is revealed in her cell, the towns’ opinion is revealed outside the jail, when one woman exclaims: This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is there no law for it? Truly there is, both in the Scripture and the statute-book. Then let the magistrates, who have made it of no effect, thank themselves if their own wives and daughters go astray! (Hawthorne 49). The townspeople are merciless because Hester has not only ruined her own reputation, but also the reputation of the entire town of Boston. In God’s eyes now the entire town of Boston is shunned because Hester’s adultery transpired within their community. As she stood on the scaffold, outside the prison door with her daughter Pearl in her arms, the town gathers around to get their first look at the sinner and her mark of guilt. The narrator explains: On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold-thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony (Hawthorne 50). Her spirit is portrayed in her decorating the scarlet letter with beautiful gold thread and she shows her strength by holding her head high and remaining in public view without shedding a tear. Authors of shmoop.com state, “The letter showcases her talent and artistry – skills that allow her to make a living as a single parent in Puritan Boston. As such, it represents her strength and independence. Such qualities set her apart from every other woman around her” (Shmoop.com). Hester neutralizes the power of the scarlet letter by not letting the public see how it actually affects her. According to scholars of Litcharts.com, “Hester overcomes being shamed by retreating into her own mind. Her sense of self serves as a shield against the Puritans’ judgments” (Litcharts.com). Even while standing up on the scaffold and being berated with questions about whom the father is, Hester remains silent and trustworthy showing her incredible strength and individuality.
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