Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter: Chapter 5 Analysis
Nathaniel Hawthorne expresses Hester Prynne's self-perception by using the concept of physiognomy, the notion that the outer appearance of a person reflects his or her inner qualities. One of the common methods through which people display their beliefs and emotions is the manner in which they present themselves to society. Hester displays her beliefs about her own character through her choice of clothing. Hawthorne also uses clothing in order to depict Hester's implementation of self punishment, which is a result of her negative self-perception.
She aims to express that her appearance has become so unattractive as a result of her sin. In other words, her the unbecoming state of her heart which has become impure is reflected in her clothing made of “the coarsest materials” with colors of “the most somber hue.” The most eye-catching article of her outfit, the scarlet letter, also greatly contributes to the physical display of her sin. Purposely reminding the people and herself about that which she is guilty of is how Hester punishes herself continuously. Her self punishment involved not only wearing “plain” clothing, but also practicing asceticism in order to prevent her from experiencing any form of enjoyment. When Hester “devot[es] so many hours” to sewing “coarse garments” she is limiting herself from reaching her true potential of artistic talent. The coarse garments are symbolic of the bland dull distractions she turns to in order to restrict herself from working on that which she is truly passionate about, in other words, to refrain from creating beautiful and arabesque articles of clothing.
Initially one would find Hester's adornment of Pearl ironic in regards to her decision to live simply without any form of enjoyment. However, after closer inspection, it can be inferred from the diction within the text that this might be another form of self punishment. Hester makes beautiful clothing for her...
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