The Development of the Character Hester Prynne in the Novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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In the novel “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne, a beautiful woman with a “figure of perfect elegance” (Hawthorne, 81), struggles to live a normal life in the Puritan society after committing adultery and consequently, cheating on her husband named Roger Chillingworth. Because of this sin, she is publicly shamed and is punished by having an “A” attached to her chest, the scarlet letter represents Hester’s sin and dramatically changes her life Throughout the novel, Hester undergoes many transformations both physically and emotionally, In the beginning of the novel, when Hester is walking out of the prison to receive her punishment, Hawthorne indirectly describes her personality through her actions in the following extract: “he 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.”

Hester’s independent and defiant nature is shown in this sentence because she doesn’t want to seem faltered by the punishment she is about to receive, Instead of acting submissively, Hester repels the guard with dignity and walks out of the prison with her head held high While people “had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud“ , “never had Hester Prynne appeared more lady-like” when she walks onto the scaffold Hester walks as if nothing is wrong and as if she is meant to be there to show off her beauty rather than accept it as a punishment Even though Hester comes off as an independent and strong-willed woman, when she stands on top of the scaffold, she realizes that the entire crowd of spectators is staring at her with grim looks and realizes that she will never be forgiven for her sin.

At the end of the chapter Hawthorne even writes “in 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 realitiesn emphasizing that Hester is in fact regretful of her sins and hinting that she is bound to change, Once Hester starts to live with Pearl in their own little cottage, she becomes more maternal Hester begins to see Pearl as her own child, not just a mere biological consequence of the affair she had with Dimmesdale. In fact, she even considers Pearl as a gift of God, given to Hester in order to help her get through her secluded life, “God gave her into my keeping,” repeated Hester Prynne, raising her voice almost to a shriek, “I will not give her up!”. Pearl is Hester’s source of happiness and she comfons her mother with “doubtful tenderness“.

After Hester’s punishment, she still has to keep on wearing the letter ”A” and slowly begins to change both physically and emotionally During her everyday life, Hester starts helping the needy by making clothes and aiding them in other everyday taskst After keeping up her reputation of a humble and capable woman, Hester starts to feel close to the letter, and it loses its effect it once had on her mentality, Her humble actions lead to people changing the way they view her, and begin interpreting the “A“ as “able”, instead of “adulteress” As stated by Hawthorn, “Such helpfulness was found in her,—so much power to do, and power to sympathize,—that many people refused to interpret the scarlet by its original signification.

They said that it meant Abel; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength. Even though Hester is seen as a better person, she slowly becomes soulless, cold and drab, losing her personality and her beauty Hester stops letting her glossy hair out, and instead, she always hides it beneath a cap, At some point Hester even has the thought of killing Pearl first and then shortly after, committing suicide, “At times a fearful doubt strove to possess her soul, whether it were not better to send Pearl at once to Heaven, and go herself to such futurity as Eternal Justice should provide.” By the end of the novel, Hester is able to completely change the way people in Boston View her.

After Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth die, Hester moves to England with Pearl, thanks to the money her husband left behind. Even though Hester dreamed about living in England with Dimmesdale and Pearl prior to his death, she still ends up returning to Boston As Hawthorne says, “Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her penitence”, and even though Hester isn’t obligated to do so, she keeps on wearing the scarlet letter but it no longer represents her sin, it now serves as a sign of respect. After everything Hester goes through, she becomes a wiser person, and women even look for Hester‘s advice as she became really knowledgeable.

Hester Prynne, a woman with unrivaled beauty, undergoes significant changes throughout the novel. Hester first comes off as an independent woman, but after being publicly shamed, she decides to change and becomes an able and humble woman. The side effect of this change is that Hester loses her personality, and at the same time, her beauty. She no longer lets her hair out but instead, keeps it hidden inside a cap. Hester also becomes more maternal once she stans to live with Pearl, when before, she didn’t feel any affection towards her daughter and only saw her as a biological mistake. After the events that lead up to Dimmesdales’ and Chillingworth’s death, Hester decides to go back to Boston and even gives other women advice, showing how mature and wise she became.


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The Development of the Character Hester Prynne in the Novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. (2023, Jun 20). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-development-of-the-character-hester-prynne-in-the-novel-the-scarlet-letter-by-nathaniel-hawthorne/

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