Character of Hester Prynne in Hawthorne's Romance "The Scarlet Letter"



" The problem of The Scarlet Letter is really the problem of how to interpret Hester ". In fact , no feature in Hawthorne romances of the 1850 is of greater psychological and cultural interest than his remarkable heroines . There is other female protagonist that dominates the narrative as much as Hester does.

 It is Hester who is present in the romance at the beginning and it is also Hester who is in focus at the end of the tale. The narrator makes it clear at the beginning that she is not an ordinary woman in colonial Boston. She is dark, handsome, and ' a rich voluptuous oriental ‘. When she comes out of the prison and moves towards the Scaffold of the pillory, her oriental beauty, dark eyes and dark hair, has a strange, esoteric appeal. Even the letter A that has been embroidered on her sombre is designed in a fleshy and flamboyant mode. It is flourish and singularity is a sort of curt defiance and challenge to the all - pervasive grey and sombre that marked the fashion of the grim puritan men and woman in mid - seventeenth century New England. There is something of Anne Hutchinson 'S non - conformity and radicalism in Hester's psychological make - up. As a lonely woman in a hostile city in the new world , Hester submits to the punishment inflicted on her but in a subtle way she also subverts puritan orthodoxy through her wild colourful scarlet letter .

There is another shining face of her. Her retreat from the Market to the lonely cottage outside Boston marks a new phase in her life. She is able to support herself and her daughter pearl through her needle work. It is her aesthetic sense and her exquisite needlework that enables her to perform the duty of a single present in a traditional, mate - dominated society. The narrator has drawn our attention to “all the combative energy of her character “which enables her to serve the poor and the needy. There is a subtle transformation in Hester and the community that has prosecuted her as the fallen woman begins to look upon her as a sister of Mercy. The Scarlet Letter has a full view of it . The letter that in the beginning appears to the community as a badge of sin and shame later on appears as a symbol of her calling as a sister of Mercy. It is also viewed by the puritan community as " Able , So strong was Hester Prynne with a woman's strength " The letter A , The Scarlet letter to be precise , also becomes " the cross on a nun's bosom " In keeping with her status as a sister of Mercy , Hester's dark , oriental beauty also undergoes a change . The narrator’s comment on this change is revealing in deed , " It was a sad transformation , too , that her rich and luxuriant hair had been cut off , or was so completely hidden by a cap , that not a shining lock of it over once gushed into the sunshine .




While Hester is transformed from a sinful woman into an angelic sister of Mercy and from a dark, voluptuous oriental woman into a nun who deliberately suppresses her youth and beauty by capping her hair, there is another subtle transformation at work. The narrator of the tale makes it clear that “much of the marble coldness of Hester's impression was to be attributed to the circumstances that her life had turned in a great measure, from passion and feeling of thought ". If in her routine conduct, Hester remains a conformist to the tenets of Puritanism in colonial new England, it is at the level of speculation and critical thinking that she tends to become subversive and challenges the patriarchal basis of man - woman relationship in mid - seventeenth century Boston - " As a first step, the whole system of society is to be turn down and built up a new. Then the very nature of the opposite sex , or its long hereditary habit which has become like nature , is to be essentially modified before woman can be allowed to assume what seems a fair and suitable position ". What the narrator is suggesting, commenting on Hester’s radicalism, is that before woman can really be empowered there has to be a drastic and radical change in their conscience and mental make - up. With out such a radical transformation in female psyche, the complete recasting of man - woman relationship will not take place and there will be no end to their suffering and prosecution in the existing society.

One can sum up , Hester's complex , radical character through the words of David Levin , " No English or American novelist before him had been able to represent convincingly the feeling and thoughts of a passionate woman and scarcely any American novelist has posed such forceful critical question for prevailing nineteenth - century beliefs ." Janus-faced, that is he looks both towards the past and the Future. It is through Hester a recent critic like Charles Swam has described the text as future - oriented history. There is no other character in The Scarlet Letter who is a better embodiment of future oriented history that is one who can be a bridge between the past and future. It is through an appreciation of the vast range of Hester's conduct and radical thought that one can adequately evaluate The Scarlet Letter as a work of fiction illuminating both the past and the future.

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