Hester Prynne: Beyond Feminism/Anti-Feminism
By: Dylan Horn
“She will not speak!... Wondrous strength and generosity of a woman’s heart! She will not speak!” (59).
In Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Dimmesdale expresses his admiration for Hester’s strength in remaining silent in the face of vitriolic accusations by the Puritan judges, as they forcefully implore her to reveal the name of her lover. One can interpret Dimmesdale’s quote as expressing amazement and reverence at Hester’s choice to shield her lover from the brutal fate that she has openly accepted for herself.... thus illustrating a woman’s capacity to love. The implication that men do not possess similar qualities of strength and generosity might be implied by Dimmesdale’s choice of diction in this reference, but it is, also, important to recognize, that Dimmesdale loves Hester, and that he recognizes his own lack of strength and compassion (and that of Chillingworth, as well). While David S. Reynolds’s article, Hester and Feminists of the 1840s interprets Hester’s characterization as feminist and Louise DeSalvo’s article, Hawthorne Lets the Patriarchs Win portrays her as anti-feminist, it is possible to interpret Hester Prynne as a heroic representation of a broader point of view… that of a heroine who transcends gender role by being a principled human being, primarily concerned with protecting the two people (Pearl and Dimmesdale) she most loves in the face of tremendous duress.
In Reynolds’ article he argues that Hawthorne has drawn a female protagonist that combines the negative stereotypes of his time with the redemptive features of a moral heroine, to create a new feminist character. Reynolds challenges the duality of the nature of women to reveal the complexity of Hester’s character. Hawthorne shows Hester’s reputation change over the course of the novel, stating,“ … Many people refused to interpret the Scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so...
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