The Feminist Scarlet Letter

Topics: The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne Pages: 5 (1815 words) Published: April 4, 2001
The Scarlet Letter can easily be seen as an early feminist piece of work. Nathaniel Hawthorne created a story that exemplifies Hester as a strong female character living with her choices, whether they were good or bad, and also as the protagonist. He also presents the daughter of Hester, Pearl, as an intelligent female, especially for her age. He goes on to prove man as imperfect through both the characters of Dimmesdale and of Chillingworth. With the situation that all the characters face, Hawthorne establishes the female as the triumphant one, accomplishing something that, during Nathaniel Hawthorne's time, authors did not attempt.

In the beginning of the book, Hawthorne paints the picture of a female named Hester who has sinned. Not only is she publicly ostracized for having an affair while unmarried, but her major repercussion, her daughter, receives her punishment as well because she derives directly from sin. It is through these tribulations that Hawthorne exemplifies Hester and Pearl, no matter how young, as strong, independent females. These characteristics were not easily applied to females during this time. Hawthorne's ability to show Hester collected and under control to the crowd, although she may have felt otherwise inside, while she exits the prison and while she is on the scaffold, exhibits her as a strong woman. The fact that Hester exits the prison "by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free will", and the fact that while on the scaffold, under pressure, Hester refuses to give the name of the father of her child, also proves her strength and compassion. She states, "Never!....It is too deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And would that I might endure his agony, as well Lewis 2

as mine!" To Hester, there is no reasons to put both shame on her and her partner when she can take all the shame. She proves herself to be selfless, another strong characteristic that exemplifies feminist attributes in the book. At first, when Hester is confronted by her ex-husband Chillingworth, she is portrayed as weak and feeble. This trait does not go on to prove Hester as a huge feminist character for the Scarlet Letter, but as the book continues, Hester receives the strength to stand up to him and realizes there is no need to fear him and a greater need to confront him. Her newfound courage makes Hester, as a protagonist and as a female, seem more powerful throughout the course of the book. At first Hester, agrees to Chillingworth's terms to keep his real identity a secret. This in return hurt Dimmesdale, her secret lover. She does not stand up to Chillingworth out of fear of the chain effect of damage it would cause. Hester says, "I will keep thy secret, as I have his", which in essence shows her weakness towards a male. Yet, at the end of the book, she recognizes that she must "do what might be in her power for the rescue of the victim on whom [Chillingworth] had so evidently set his gripe". She comes to the conclusion that hiding Chillingworth's secret does not help Dimmesdale like she hopes, but in fact, hurts him further. The fact that she realizes this, though, displays her to be an devoted and loyal person. These qualities display many things a female, main character, in those times, did not have much opportunity to play, especially in the role of which Hester plays it.

Hester with society also proves to be a strongly feministic aspect of The Scarlet Letter. Hester, as a female sinner, throughout the book, proves not to be a burden on society. Although she is an outcast, many find it hard to not admire the way she holds herself, especially due to the situation she is in. The admiration grows as the story continues. At first, the main admiration for Hester is her skill with the needle. Many of the townspeople regard Hester's work as the latest trend. "Her handiwork became what would now be termed the...
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