Throughout the Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne depicts Hester as a dynamic character who is constantly struggling with her identity within the Puritan Society. Ever since her conviction of adultery and her punishment as the Scarlet Letter, the Puritan Society has tried labeling and identifying her with their terms and laws. Hester has also identified herself with these terms, and she has compromised with the Puritan system of life.
However, Hester sacrifices her own interpretation of her identity for theirs; thus, she loses her quintessential representation of her own feminism.
Hester Prynne loses that which makes her unique and special, as she represents less individuality, womanhood, and complexity–reducing her to a symbol. Because of her role in Puritan Society, she gradually loses her identification as a woman and is recognized as a mere product of a corrupt system through her assimilation into the society’s cultural norms and ideologies.
Hawthorne firstly establishes Hester as the bold epitomical embodiment of pure womanhood in stark contrast to the Puritan Society’s coarse, robust, and almost ugly group of townswomen who mock her because of the Scarlet Letter.
Hawthorne depicts this scene to represent differences between Hester’s portrayal and the Puritan’s society’s views on womanliness. It can be observed that the Society believes that feminism is an “unnecessity” and will not compromise its doctrines to make it a part of its culture, but Hester sees to it to embrace her boldness and freedom as a gift rather than ignoring it completely.
Moreover, this further implies the initial separation of Hester Prynne from Puritan Societal ideals and norms when 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” (56). The quote depicts Hester embracing her current situation and implies a separation from the ideals of the ideological system. However in chapter 13, Hawthorne gives a picture of Hester that is a complete contrast to the Hester in Chapter 2.
Instead of “the…tall…figure of perfect elegance on a large scale” (50), Hawthorne illustrates Hester as a more humble figure being a charity giver. Hester evolved in such a way that “the position in respect to society has indicated by it–on the mind of Hester Prynne herself, was powerful and peculiar. All the light and graceful foliage of her character had been withered up…even the attractiveness of her person had undergone a similar change…much of the marble coldness of Hester’s impression was to be attributed to the circumstance, that her life had turned…from passion and feeling, to thought” (148).
In other words, Hester suffered a great evolution from feministic perfection to feministic decadence. She has lost her looks and she has acquired a cold attitude to her circumstance. More profoundly, she has lost her passion to her transformation. Hence, it is revealed that as Hester’s involvement in Puritan Society increases, her womanhood decreases. Towards the end of the Scarlet Letter, ironically, Hester’s assimilation still results in her rejection within society and the forming of public opinion about her, despite all the good charity she does.
In chapter 21, Hawthorne begins to emphasize the power of public opinion and what it did to label Hester as just another person without uniqueness inside Puritan Culture. Hawthorne shows this best when he says, “Her face, so long familiar to the townspeople, showed the marble quietude which they were accustomed to behold there. It was like a mask; or, rather, like the frozen calmness of a dead woman’s features; owing this dreary resemblance to the fact to the fact that Hester was actually dead” (203). The Puritan Society killed Hester’s identity and her association with her womanliness.
In a word, she was no more a threat to the common thread of tradition in the Puritan Society. Also, because Hester excepted those identifications, she assisted in her own extinction, and thus; she became invisible to society literally and figuratively. A little more into the chapter, Hawthorne portrays the townspeople’s cognizance but no acknowledgment (invisible to society figuratively) of Hester’s presence, yet they form “a sort of magic circle–into which, though the people were elbowing one another at a little distance, none ventured, or felt disposed, to intrude” (210).
At the end of the Scarlet Letter, Hester returns to the Puritan Society and becomes an advocate for women by serving as a role model for the community. Hester, also, becomes a spokeswoman for womanliness in the society and continues in her charity work to the needy. Hester has to stay within the society that punished her because her individuality is tied to the culture. She cannot escape which that transformed her into what she is now because her experience of being a woman was lost inside the community because, “here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her penitence.
She had returned, therefore, and resumed,–of her free will” (234). And because she had that experience with discrimination, pain, sorrow, and transformation; she can better “comfort and counsel them as best she might. She assured them, too, of her firm belief, that at some brighter period, when the world should have grown ripe for it” (235). She returns back to the Puritan Society as a sacrifice to help the younger generation of women not make the same mistake as she did in forgetting feminism.
The evolution of Hester helps the reader understand the impact a society’s influence can have on a person’s innermost being and unique character. Puritan society transformed Hester into a person that was not representative of individuality, womanhood, and human complexity but rather a representation of the Puritan cultural norms and ideologies. The society’s influence on Hester resulted in the extinction of herself and the culture’s only bold rose to stand in the midst of a Puritan landscape. Instead, Hester chose the other path of reducing herself to a mere symbol without meaning, uniqueness, and womanliness.
Cite this Scarlet Letter on Feminism
Scarlet Letter on Feminism. (2017, Mar 30). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/scarlet-letter-on-feminism/