The Scarlet Letter - Hester's Deconstruction of Puritan Ideals
Hester, the protagonist in Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter, effectively challenges the efforts of the Puritan theocracy to define her, and at the same time, contain the threat she poses to the social order.
Throughout the novel Hester bears the mark of an "A" embroidered on her chest which was originally intended to label her as a social outcast, more specifically an adulteress to the rest of society. She wears the "A" for many years after she bears her "illegitimate" child with virtually no objection. She graciously accepts the punishment bestowed upon her by the strict Puritanical decree that rules, unimpeded, over the New England town where she finds residence. But as the novel progresses Hester remains subservient, dutiful and humble, living in slight seclusion with her child on the edge of town. Hawthorne writes:
As was usually the case wherever Hester stood, a small, vacant area - a sort of magic circle - had formed itself about her, into which, though the people were elbowing one another at a little distance, none ventured, or felt disposed to intrude. It was a forcible type of the moral solitude in which the scarlet letter enveloped its fated wearer; partly by her own reserve, and partly by the instinctive, though no longer so unkindly, withdrawal of her fellow-creatures (Hawthorne 181).
This excerpt from the text shows how Hester does, to some extent, impose strict limits upon herself which she lives by, and which helps to reinforce her punishment, and at the same time preserve and show respect to the Puritan theocracy. Hester cooperatively plays the role of the scapegoat for the rest of society throughout her life, and in a sense becomes a sort of Puritan martyr. However, Hester's first clear defiance of this Puritan theocracy comes when she refuses to disclose the name of her child's father. As Mr. Wilson persists in his public questioning he exclaims to Hester: Speak out the name! That, and thy repentance, may avail to take the scarlet letter off thy breast (Hawthorne 68).
Of course Hester refuses Mr. Wilson's request and in turn accepts the responsibility of her actions exclusively and in a selfless fashion. This, however, poses a threat to the existing social order because it results in the impunity...