Hester Prynne as a Heroine

Topics: The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne Pages: 8 (2831 words) Published: December 11, 2012
Hester Prynne as a Heroine Volner 1
What makes a hero? Some may say saving lives, or stopping evil, but in literature, these are not the only requirements for the title of “hero.” It is monstrously debated amongst literary scholars whether or not Hester Prynne of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is a true heroine or not. She displays heroic qualities, but many believe otherwise. The novel opens with her being publicly humiliated. Her sin was adultery, a transgression that puritans of the 1600's would take to heart. Her husband, Roger Chillingworth, had not been seen for two years, and she slept with another man while under wedlock. She is decried by the citizens and is forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her bosom, which would serve as a permanent reminder to her sin. The letter would not be her only reminder, however. Her sin-born child whom she names Pearl serves as a constant symbol of her sin and a repetitive test of strength. She lives in the outskirts of town with only her and Pearl, supporting the small family with her skilled needlework. The city itself is unsatisfied with their knowledge of the sin, and the ministers keep trying to persuade Hester to reveal the identity of her comrade. She never admits it herself, although minister Arthur Dimmsdale admits he is Hester's secret lover in the end. Hester's sin causes a sinusoidal uprise in the communities emotions. At first it is what all the gossip is about, but it dies down after a few years. Then the story climaxes near the end where Dimmsdale reveals his secret. Throughout all of this chaos, Hester Prynne displays that she is most definitely a heroine. To be a heroine, Hester is not required to do glorious battle or change the world. Nor is perfection mandated. Hester does have her flaws, but she makes a grand “flawed hero.” She stays morally strong after her punishment, has the standard qualities of a hero, and is a role model.

Hester demonstrates the standard qualities of a heroine throughout the story. A hero is anyone
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of distinguished nobility and ability, one who overcomes great difficulty and accomplishes something great. Heroes are brave, loyal, strong, and courageous. Hester is all of these things. Hester's bravery is obvious throughout the novel. Hester stands and takes the assault from the townspeople throughout the story, especially in the beginning when she is on the scaffold. She is forced to stand in the middle of town for hours on end, just to be judged by the citizens. While on the scaffold, Hawthorne notes that she feels “at length relieved” (Hawthorne 53). To feel relief under all of the scrutiny and pressure from the townsfolk would be sure to crumble many women of the 1600s; but not Hester. Her bravery prevents her from bursting under this pressure. In fact, she does nearly the complete opposite than bursting under pressure. She stands, head held high, with a “burning blush” and a “haughty smile” with an expression that “wouldn't be abashed” with a magnificently embroidered “A” on her clothing. (Hawthorne 46) Even more so, Hester exhibits bravery steadily throughout the novel. She becomes the symbol of sin in the community; the example of what not to do as a young woman.

Throughout them all, giving up her individuality, she would become the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they might vivify and embody their images of woman's frailty and sinful passion. Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her...as the figure, the body, the reality of sin. And over her grave, the infamy that she must carry thither would be her only monument. (Hawthorne 70) Hester is the example to all young women of what not to be, what not to become. All women of the town judge and despise Hester for her wrongdoing,...

Cited: Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1999. Print
ABC-Clio, Classic Love and Romance Literature. Virginia: ABC-Clio, 1999. Print
Swisher, Clarice. Understanding The Scarlet Letter. Minnesota: Lucent Books 2003. Print
Johnson, Claudia Durst. Women 's Issues in Nathaniel Hawthorne 's The Scarlet Letter. Minnesota: The Greenhaven Press, 2009. Print
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