The Unchanged Character of Hester in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter
In the course of most stories, at least one of the main characters changes in one way or another. In The Scarlet Letter, one of the main characters we see a change in is Hester. Through the course of the novel, it appears that Hester changes from an arrogant, unremorseful woman to a much kinder and helpful, repentant woman. Although it appears that Hester has learned a lesson from her sin and consequential punishment, has she really changed her sinful ways? If she has, why, then, is she going to leave for Europe with Arthur Dimmesdale?
In the beginning of The Scarlet Letter, we see Hester being punished publicly for the sin she has committed with Arthur Dimmesdale. In chapter two, Hawthorne writes, "he [the town-beadle] laid his right hand upon the shoulder of a young woman, whom he thus drew forward until, on the threshold of the prison-door, she repelled him, by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free-will." Two paragraphs later, Hawthorne writes, "And never had Hester Prynne appeared more lady-like, in the antique interpretation of the term, than as she issued from the prison. 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 the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped." At this first appearance to the townspeople, Hester acts as if nothing is wrong, as if she has chosen to appear before the people, rather than take it as a punishment. Hester’s haughty appearance does not accurately reflect the way she is feeling on the inside. Right at the end of chapter two, Hawthorne writes, "Could it be true? She clutched the child so fiercely to her breast, that it sent forth a cry; she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and the shame were real. Yes!—these were her realities,—all else had vanished!" Hester has no reason here to clutch the child fiercely or to question the reality of the events occurring if the ordeal is not affecting her on the inside.
After Hester is released from the prison and is living in the cottage, she is daily reminded of her shame and she is constantly hurting because of her punishment. When she walks around town, people look at her in a demeaning manner. In chapter five, Hawthorne writes, "Another peculiar torture was felt in the gaze of a new eye. When strangers looked curiously at the scarlet letter,—and none ever failed to do so,—they branded it afresh into Hester’s soul; so that, oftentimes, she could scarcely refrain, yet always did refrain, from covering...