Of all the characters in The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne, the protagonist, is the strongest and most courageous. But, that is not to say that she is unsusceptible to change. Over the course of the novel, Hester remains unchanged in some areas, such as strength and honesty, but her beauty and social status vary greatly.
One trait that defines Hester throughout the novel is strength. Strength in the mind and also in the heart is what makes Hester a striking person in a gloomy society. This strength was inside of her all along, but it is the scarlet letter that eventually brings it to our attention. During the first scaffold scene, Nathaniel Hawthorne notes her “natural dignity and force of character.” Her poise under scrutiny is remarkable during this significant scene. Her might is also evident in her dealings with both her husband, Roger Chillingworth, and also her lover, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. Hester repeatedly denies Chillingworth the satisfaction of knowing her fellow sinner. And in the forest scene, Dimmesdale acknowledges that she has the strength he lacks and he calls on her help in his time of need. Also, she shows honesty by openly recognizing her sin, unlike Dimmesdale who hides and is weakened. Hester is beautiful not only on the inside, but also physically attractive on the outside.
Hester’s corporal beauty is first mentioned during the original scaffold scene, when she is described as a tall young woman with a “figure of perfect elegance on a large scale.” Her most imposing feature is her elegant glossy hair, which is let loose and blows freely in the wind. Seven years after her punishment for her sin though, that beauty is gone. Her glossy hair is hidden under a cap and her warmth is diminished, buried under the elaborate scarlet letter. When she does eventually remove the emblem, she instantly regains the beauty she possessed earlier. Pearl, unhappy with her mother’s change, demands that she reattach the scarlet “A”. Although the letter does cloud her beauty, it does gain her a respect in the Puritan society through time.
Directly after being punished during the first scaffold scene, Hester and Pearl and remove from society. They are forced to live on the outskirts of town, surviving by her skill with a thread and needle. Honesty does prevail; Hester openly acknowledges her sin and done not attempt to hide it. For this, the townspeople begin to admire her and increasingly reaccept her into society. Being as strong as she is, Hester does not need the recognition because she is content with herself. In the end, Dimmesdale dies after his public confession and Chillingworth dies consumed by his own hatred and revenge, but Hester lives on, quietly, and becomes something of a legend in the colony. Through peace and satisfaction, Hester journeys from a normal young woman living in Puritan society, to a social outcast residing on the outskirts of the forest; then, as though a reward from God, she rises above all others and into the hearts of many, sharing her compassion and giving strength to all that remember her.
In conclusion, Hester’s strength remains untainted throughout The Scarlet Letter, while her physical beauty and social status alter greatly, both for the good and bad. Hester, as beautiful as she is, cannot be perfect. But her honesty, compassion, and strength are more than enough to relieve her soul.