Essay Test: The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" is set in the early days of Puritan America. Hester Prynne, a seamstress, comes to the New World before her husband in order to prepare a place for them. During his absence, she develops a relationship with Arthur Dimmesdale, a rising minister in the newly founded Puritan community. Hester becomes pregnant. The novel is widely viewed to be a story about her trials and tribulations; however, critic Randall Steward argues that, "
Hester is not the protagonist, the chief actor, and the tragedy of the novel is not her tragedy but Arthur's. He is the persecuted one, the tempted one. He it was whom the sorrows of death encompassed
His public confession is one of the noblest climaxes of tragic literature." This review, controversial as it may be among Hawthorne's readers and very possibly a bit of an overstatement, has a lot of truth in it.
Obviously, Hester Prynne is the most obvious of the protagonists in "The Scarlet Letter". She is first seen upon the scaffold holding her child in her arms with a "Scarlet Letter, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom." (p. 49) She is being watched and no doubt ridiculed by all those present. She is forced to watch her husband slither into the heart of Arthur Dimmesdale and then not to say a thing. She is cast out of society. Her child is viewed as a demon because she comes from sin. She is not granted a moment's relief from the letter that is blazoned on her chest in red and gold. She is persecuted, tempted, and her life is never the same. Yet, somehow, she perseveres in the face of adversity. She is a protagonist in Hawthorne's novel. To say that the tragedy of the novel is not hers at all is flat out wrong and inobservant almost to a point of virtual blindness. However, there is some truth in that it doesn't belong to her entirely. The reader must look closer to find the other hero hidden in the shadows of the...
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