The Scarlet Letter Essay

1512 words - 6 pages

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic, The Scarlett Letter, has become one of the most discussed novels of all time. A great deal of` controversy streams from the obvious gender-related issues throughout the story. Considering the setting of seventeenth-century Boston, the plot takes place in a conservative Puritan society. Because of this, Hester Prynne, the protagonist, spends the seven years, over the course of which the book takes place, dealing with the repercussions of what is believed to be a “crime” against God and her community. The situation she is put in is one very few people could truly endure. Yet, she is able to beat all odds and surpass peoples’ expectations of an “ordinary Puritan women.” The complexity of the story goes into the depths of gender equality and the unconventional position this woman has in society. Hawthorne is able to depict conflicting gender roles in The Scarlett Letter by illustrating the expected persona of a Puritan woman and directly contrasting that norm with his very complicated and well-developed character, Hester Prynne.
It is evident to the reader that Hester Prynne is no ordinary women because of her clear defiance of what the Puritan society expects. “A community that embodies the qualities of aging public males must necessarily repress those of the young and female,” which has become an unspoken yet understood way of life in Salem, Massachusetts (Baym, “Defiance” 90). All women are required to be submissive and completely abiding of their husbands’ word. They are not to have any self-expression as it is thought to jeopardize the community as a whole. The manifestation of individuality and personal beliefs is seen as both a threat and a sign of insolence, which are responded to with very sever punishments. Because “women are of less account than men - are not fully members of society -” the Puritan concept of focusing on the needs of the public over those of the individual obligate women to fully devote their lives to the demands of males (Baym, “Defiance” 91). This male-dominance, in combination with the extremely strict religious beliefs, makes Hester Prynne’s actions that much more unaccepted by her fellow Puritans.
Most obvious to the reader as well as the Puritan people is how controversial Hester Prynne’s actions are throughout The Scarlett Letter. The crime Hester and her lover Dimmesdale commit is not one simply against beliefs, but rather a “social crime” which brings about the judgment of those around her (Baym, “Defiance” 97). Being surrounded by mostly male authority-figures, the two face very different consequences. Being a reverend, Dimmesdale has to deal with the discontent of his followers, where as Hester has not yet become a part of the community and is labeled an adulterous. Most Puritan women would stumble under the pressure of rejection. The Puritan society is based on “power from the consensual community and the laws that uphold it,” (Baym, “Outsider” 59). Yet, because she is...

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