The Evolution of Hester’s Scarlet Letter
In the novel, The Scarlet Letter, the protagonist, Hester Prynne, is forced to publically wear her sin on her sleeve. She committed adultery, which was a sin that was highly chastised by the Puritan society. The Scarlet Letter that Hester wore first symbolized the burden and humiliation that accompanied the sin. Throughout the novel however, the meaning of the letter changed to parallel Hester’s own development into a strong, independent woman.
The letter starts out as a symbol of shame. A public trial in the presence of her fellow New England citizens forced Hester to wear this shameful letter. As Hester was standing on the pillory, her punishment for committing adultery was to display the “mark of shame upon her bosom” for all to see (Pg 58). The Scarlet Letter diminished Hester’s image by subjecting her to public humiliation, which affected her emotionally and mentally. Puritan women at the pillory claimed that the Scarlet Letter could possibly be hidden on the outside by physically covering it, but “ the pain of it will be always in [Hester’s] heart” (Pg 49). Hester had to endure belittlement and harassment at the hands the disappointed Puritan mob. Even the Puritan children, “the most intolerant brood that ever lived,” made disparaging remarks about her (Pg 83) because they “scorned [Hester and Pearl] in their hearts”(Pg 84). Hester was forced to the bottom of the social ladder if even children can get away with making fun of an elder without fear of punishment in such a rigid society. The various tragic events exacerbated the guilt that Hester felt. This is demonstrated when she told her husband, Chillingsworth, that it was her fault for committing adultery to conceal the identity of the person with whom she committed the sin. She hid the identity of Pearl’s father because the constant humiliation and rebuke that she had to endure led her to believe that her sin was completely her burden to bear. Hester knew...
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