The Scarlet Letter


Hester Prynne

Hester Prynne is the main character in The Scarlet Letter and, as the title suggests, is the woman sentenced to wear the scarlet “A” upon her chest as evidence of her adultery. In many ways, this act of adultery defines Prynne, as she becomes synonymous in her community with the image of adultery. However, it would be a mistake to reduce Hester to a single action or simply the label of “adulterer,” because she is far more complex than that simplistic label. Examining her as she develops throughout the novel, the reader finds a complex woman who is both constrained by and simultaneously very rebellious of the rules imposed by her Puritan society. How Hester responds to these rules, whether through overt disobedience or more subtle forms of resistance, reveals a substantial amount about her personality. Hester is a strong person who is very self-reliant and seems to need little in the way of outside interaction in order to be content. On the other hand, the reader also knows that Hester has previously been swayed by passion has and allowed that desire for human contact to lead her to make a seemingly self-destructive decision. The contrast between the seemingly rational and rule-following Hester introduced at the beginning of the novel and this emotion-driven Hester seems difficult to comprehend, but Hester is consistently portrayed as a determined woman.

While Hester is the main character of the novel, she remains an enigma for much of the story. For example, Hawthorne never reveals the circumstances of Hester’s life in England beyond the fact that she came from a genteel family with little money. The reader learns that she married Chillingworth, but how she came to that decision is never explained; one assumes his wealth had something to do with the match. She does reflect on memories of her childhood, and she has positive memories of her parents, whom she believes tried to steer her away from making bad decisions. However, whether marrying Roger Chillingworth would have been considered one of those decisions they would have sought to...

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Essays About The Scarlet Letter