Scarlett Letter Feminist Criticism
Scarlett Letter Feminist Criticism
While Hawthorne is influenced by stereotypes, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne does serve to criticize patriarchy as he creates a plausible individual who is strong in the face of patriarchal opposition. Hester turns her punishment into a life changing experience by becoming a better, stronger, and more independent person than she was at the beginning of the novel. The way she handles her punishment does not make it right but it did make her a strong woman to be admired. It is when Hester takes on the task of owning the punishment all on her own that she shows she is a feminist well efore her time.
She does not do what is expected of women during the time in which the story takes place. Hester demonstrates that she is strong in the face of patriarchal oppression and the scrutiny of the community in which she lives. Hawthorne writes “But under the leaden inflictions which it was her doom to endure, she felt at moments, as if she must needs to shriek out with the full powers of her lungs. ” (49) The town’s people are watching Hester so disapprovingly that she is tempted to scream out at them, but Hester remains silent hile the whole town is looking down upon her and her infant child because of her sin of adultery.
Hester would not let the people see her as weak or show how it humiliated her to be standing before the crowd with the letter A embroidered upon her bosom. It is here Hester shows such strength and courage, at a time when women were thought of as weak. Hawthorne continues to write, “Speak out the name! That, and thy repentance, may avail to take the scarlet letter off thy breast. ” “Never! Replied Hester Prynne. ” (58) It is here that Hester refuses to answer the Reverend Mr. Wilson, as is expected of her, when the head of church ask her to name thy baby’s father. Women were expected to obey men of authority and for Hester to refuse to name her baby’s father, shows that she is very strong even in the presence of authority and will not be submissive. She holds steadfast in keeping quiet and not naming the baby’s father and therefore taking on the punishment all on her own, as she will not speak out the father’s name as demanded of her. It is through her silence that Hester showed great inner strength and does not succumb to how she was feeling on the inside.
Hawthorne tells us “It may seem marvelous, that this woman should still call that place her home. ” and further writes “With the world before her,-kept by no restrictive clause of her condemnation” “free to return to her birthplace, or to any European Land. ” (67) Once Hester’s confinement is over she is free to leave town, but she stays and makes a home for her and her daughter Pearl. Hester of her own free will did not flee when she was free to go. Instead of leaving where she would have been free from judgments and ridicule, she chooses to stay and face her punishment.
It is ecause Hester chooses to face her punishment alone and remains adamantly silent when asked to name her baby’s father, that she is strong in the face of patriarchal oppression and authority. Hester quietly takes up a productive place in the oppressive society in which she lives. Hawthorne describes how Hester provides for herself and her child by saying “She possessed an art that sufficed, even in a land that afforded comparatively little scope for its exercise, to supply food for her thriving infant and herself. ” (68) It is because of Hester’s fine sewing skills that she is able to provide an income for her and Pearl.
Hester’s needlework is so delicate and beautifully done that women of court or those of wealth sought her out for their intricate embroidery needs. Hawthorne shows us how Hester is charitable when he says “Hester bestowed all her superfluous means in charity, on wrenches less miserable than herself and who not infrequently insulted the hand that fed them. Much of her time, which she might readily have applied to better efforts of her art, she employed in making coarse garments for the poor. ” (70) This proves that even though the people in her community shunned her, Hester was kind hearted and willingly o help those less fortunate than her, even when they would insult her and talk among themselves behind her back. Hester did not have much in ways of means, but she selflessly gives her time and efforts to make clothes for the poor.
Hawthorne tells us how Hester mothers her daughter Pearl when he writes “In this little lonesome dwelling, with some slender means that she possessed, and by the license of her magistrates” “Hester established herself with her infant child. ” (68) Hawthorne further writes “She early sought to impose a tender, but strict, control over the infant immortality that was ommitted to her charge. ” (76) Hester is mindful of her own faults in life that she is careful not to be too strict and to show tenderness to her child. Sometimes not knowing how to mother, Hester would stand aside and let Pearl act on her own accord and let her become her own person. Hester with her sewing skills, her charitable deeds for the poor and raising Pearl on her own shows how she quietly takes up a productive place in the oppressive society in which she lives. Even though the towns people continued to look down on Hester, she did not let it stop her from living her life and helping others in need.
Hawthorne creates a plausible individual in his central character, Hester Prynne as she is not the typical Puritan woman and goes against the grain and what is expected of her. Hawthorne shows us how Hester is self-reliant when he states “What others might seek in vain, or because Hester really filled the gap which must otherwise have remained vacant; it is certain that she had ready and fairly requited employment for as many hours as she sees fit to occupy her needle. ” (69) Hester shows that she does not need a man in her life to provide for her and her baby.
She is self reliant, when women of her day were dependent upon their husbands to provide for all their needs. She works hard and works as long as she needs to provide the necessities that she and Pearl need all on her own. Hawthorn demonstrates Hester’s bravery by standing up for herself when he writes “I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned from this! Answered Hester Prynne, laying her finger on the red token. Women it is thy badge of shame! Replied the magistrate. It is because of the stain which the letter indicates that we would transfer thy child to others hands. (92) Hawthorne further says “God gave me that child! Cried she.
He gave her in requital to all else, when ye had taken from me. She is my happiness! -she is my torture, none the less! Pearl keeps me in life! ” (94) Women were not to speak out against authority especially male authority, but Hester stands up for herself and defends why Pearl should not be taken away from her care. This shows great bravery and her deep love for her child. Hester shows personal strength everyday during her punishment when Hawthorne writes “When strangers looked curiously at the scarlet letter,- and none ever ailed to do so,- they branded it fresh into Hester’s soul: so that, oftentimes, she could scarcely refrain, yet always did refrain, from covering the symbol with her hand. ” (72) When ever Hester was to walk into town those who did not already know her would stop and stare at the letter upon her chest. Even though Hester wanted to hide the shame of the letter she did not, she forced herself not to cover the letter and to carry on. It is because of Hester’s strong will that she is able to face her punishment everyday, wearing her sin bravely out in the open.
She did not let it stop her from living her life and going about her daily routine or making a good life for her and her daughter Pearl. Women in Hester’s day would have been too weak to venture into town all by themselves, instead they would have chosen to stay hidden, as to not having to face their sin. Also, they would not have walked with their heads up, instead would have kept their heads down as to not see the stares upon them, the fingers pointing at them or to hear words of insult directed at them. They would have been too weak to handle the daily scorn as bravely as Hester did.
In conclusion one can see how Hester is a plausible individual who is strong in the face of patriarchal opposition and authority. Women during this time were seen as fragile, submissive, totally dependent upon and controlled by the men in their lives. Hester proves that she is neither of the above mentioned. She alone provides for her child, she was not dependent on anyone, she stood up for herself when threatened to lose Pearl, she did not submit when asked over and over again to name her baby’s father. What should have made Hester weak and shameful only made her a stronger, and better erson who learned to be self-reliant.
In the end Hester’s good deeds and the way she carried her punishment turned her sinful letter “A” for adultery, into a new meaning among the people in her community. The letter “A” was now redefined by society as someone who was “Abel” capable and strong. The way Hester handled her punishment made her a strong and independent woman who defied the way a women was expected to be and act during patriarchal times, she showed us over and over again how she was a feminist before her time and in the end she finds favor with the women folk who now sought her out for advice.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 6 October 2016
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