Last Updated 22 Nov 2022

Character Analysis of Hester Prynne in the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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As young people, we are thrown into a terrifying quest-the quest to find out who we are. Throughout the rest of our lives, we will encounter obstacles that will test our willpower and shape our identity. Asserting our individuality inevitably leads to conflict. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne embarks on this journey. Although her actions are condemned and challenged by many people, Prynne ultimately wins their respect.

Hester Prynne is her own person, tending to follow the dictates of her own heart. As a result, she faces much opposition. In her youth, she had an affair with Reverend Dimmesdale while her husband was away. When she bears a child, the townspeople humiliate and ostracize her. Instead of being driven away by the town, Hester chooses to stay in Boston and tolerates their cruelty. Furthermore, the townspeople question Hester's ability to raise a Christian child. The town magistrates' attempts to separate mother and child create even more tension between Prynne and the town. For Hester Prynne, Boston is not a happy place to be.

As an outcast, Prynne becomes a hardened woman. In the following years, the daily ostracization causes her to lose her passionate, carefree beauty. Her womanhood fades away; she dresses in only the dullest attire, confines her wild hair under a cap. It is as if she is crying out to the town that she has indeed lost her vanity and youthful foolishness. She constantly gives back to her community, helping the poor, helping the rich, taking all abuses with composure and refusing to let estrangement take away her dignity. Only in her daughter Pearl does she let bits of her old self show; she embroiders for Pearl the most exquisite clothing. When Pearl is in danger of being taken away, she fights to keep her with a mother's passion. Through the years, the scarlet letter emblazoned on her chest taught her much.

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In the end, Hester Prynne is no longer seen by the town as a harlot, but admired as one who has endured great troubles. In the story, the letter "A" is interpreted in many ways. Initially, "A" stands for "Adulterer," a symbol singed with all the implications of sin and damnation. However, as the novel progresses, "A" lost its shame as Prynne is called an "Able" woman. Later, on one surreal night, at the same time a meteoric "A" horrifies the two adulterers, the townspeople feel blessed to have the reassurance of an "Angel." In this way, we understand that Prynne's fate is not doomed by the scarlet letter. Her estrangement is only temporary; time heals all wounds and resolves all conflicts. As the novel closes, Pearl not only keeps her mother, but grows into an honorable young woman. Prynne herself is sought after for advice; The resolution effectively draws a lesson from Prynne's hardships. Even one once condemned as the scum of the earth can be regarded with "Awe."

Because Hester follows her own heart, she faces much opposition. However, because she is true to her values, she becomes a respected woman. Respect, then, is hard-won.

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