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Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter Essay

1551 words - 7 pages

In every generation there are certain rules and etiquette that play a large role in dictating the appropriate behavior for the time. An individual may choose to live his or her life according to this code of conduct and do fairly well, or in contrast live a life full of trials and hardship as a result of their transgression. This is especially true for the early inhabitants of 17th century colonial America, a period rife with the religious zeal and harsh castigation carried out on behalf of the Puritans who settled the area. During this time, as is still the case today, offenders of this societal moral code were made examples of and forced to suffer so that they may serve as a warning to the rest of the population. This is the case in The Scarlet Letter where the protagonist Hester Prynne is ostracized from her conservative community after committing the then unforgivable sin of adultery. In his novel, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses both themes of guilt and redemption to create trials that test his character Hester Prynne and in the process transforms her from a pitiable sinner, to a symbol of strength.
The first test Hester Prynne is dealt is given by the community magistrates whose punishment includes forcing Hester to become a spectacle by demanding she stand before the entire town in an effort to publicly shame her. The hope of those watching is to see a weak and submissive individual crippled by the weight of her sin, but instead Hester emerges defiantly stoic “Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped.” (51) The determination of Hester to not allow those that have gathered before her condemnation to witness any sign of weakness is a perfect example of her strength and maturity in the face of great difficulty. Hester is fully aware that she is at fault and guilty of sinning, yet she refuses to give the growing crowd the satisfaction of seeing her suffer. Instead of succumbing to the pressure like the townspeople expect, she finds a subtle way to protest and show her strength; she artfully sews the letter A, the chosen symbol for adulteress, onto her chest. The scarlet letter serves as a safe haven for what little dignity Hester can cling to in her present situation. The creation of the letter and obvious display of her craftsmanship provide a sense of pride for Hester at a time when she is at her lowest in the eyes of the town “‘She hath good skill at her needle that’s certain,’ remarked one of her female spectators; ‘but did ever a woman, before this brazen hussy, and contrive such a way of showing it!” (51) While some of the spectators gawk at Hester’s bold display of defiance, the protagonist’s goal has ultimately been archived; she has maintained her composure in front of the town and set the tone for how she will continue to overcome...

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