The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter
Doesn’t redemption require more than just a simple sorry? Nathaniel Hawthorne uses the letter “A” to prove redemption may be possible through one’s admirable actions. As stated in The Scarlet Letter, “Many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. ” (Hawthorne 111) meaning Hester Prynne changed the view that others had of her because of her scarlet letter. The punishment from a women’s wrongdoing was soon interpreted from a symbol of sin to a symbol of kindness due to redemption.
Hester engages in a variety of acts that turned her from being classified as a horrible human being, into being an idol to the majority of the town. Hester demonstrates what it is like to be an outcast in society. When the town finds out that Hester had committed adultery, everybody views her differently than before. They only see her as a sinner and they all gather to watch her be humiliated and punished in front of the rest of the town. Although Hester did not regret committing her sin, the opinions of others still affect her in a certain way. She is shameful, but not remorseful.
As proven, Hester’s thoughts are revealed as, “Like all other joys, she rejected it as a sin. ” (Hawthorne 57) Hawthorne mentions that “The exception indicated the ever relentless vigor with which society frowned upon her sin. ” (Hawthorne 57) This quote proves that society has an entirely different view on Hester just because she will now have a scarlet letter on her breast. During this time, Puritans viewed Hester’s sin in the same way present day society views murder, which is why everybody is repulsed with her because of her act of adultery.
The following quote demonstrates Hester’s shame towards having to wear the letter “As if the letter were not of red cloth, but red-hot iron. I shuddered, and involuntarily let it fall upon the floor. ” (Hawthorne 60) This quote displays the severe emotional scarring Hester feels from a small, but extremely significant physical designation handed down from the Puritans. It seems that she is ashamed of the fact that there is going to be an obvious difference between her and the rest of society now. Society thought Hester’s embroidering was too lenient of a punishment.
One of the old townspeople even says “At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead. ” (Hawthorne 36) At this point in the novel, Hester will not be forgiven nor liked by anyone. Hester suffers in ways that other people do not see, though. The letter “A” had lead up to Hester almost losing her daughter, Pearl, “No, my little Pearl! … Thou must gather thine own sunshine. I have none to give thee! ” (Hawthorne 71) The governor had ordered his servant to take Pearl away once and for all which was all relevant to Hester having the letter A on her bosom.
Although people may think Hester’s punishment wasn’t severe enough, her guilt ate at her more than the letter put on her chest. Pearl is also walking proof that is a constant reminder to Hester of her sin and wrongdoing. Many puritans, including Hester herself, view Pearl as the Devil’s child because she was created by sin and is said to be the Devil’s work. Hester’s sin resulted in more consequence than what only lied on her breast. Hester begins to no longer feel humiliated and wears her scarlet letter with pride.
She does this to show she is not keeping her scarlet letter a secret any longer. It is said that “On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold-thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony. (Hawthorne 37) This quote is very meaningful to who Hester becomes. It brings out her character and exemplifies her attitude towards her embroidering. She made an effort to show that the opinion of others would not affect her because of this beautiful letter she created for herself. Her creation symbolizes pride and confidence. Dimmesdale also proves this by telling Hester, “Happy you are, Hester, that wear that scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret!! ” (Hawthorne 131) This provides the information that Hester in fact does almost show off her scarlet letter.
Hester uses her skill and unleashes her pride to show society that she is no longer affected by wearing the letter and more importantly, she does not care for their opinions. Society not only becomes accepting of Hester, but they forgive and begin to admire her. The townspeople declares that Hester’s “A” “Meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a women’s strength. ” (Hawthorne 111) This signifies that Hester has changed the meaning of the letter “A” from the original meaning of “Adultery” to meaning “Able” because she is so strong and helpful in her society. Hester becomes well-respected in her town by the admirable acts she commits.
She becomes involved in charity work although the poor doesn’t show compassion towards her; it does not matter because she enjoys helping and doing a good deed from her heart. Not only does Hester partake in charity work, but she also puts her skills towards helping out the needy by knitting clothing for them. Because of these kind acts, it is commonly known that Hester “Is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted! ” (Hawthorne 111) Hester changes the view of herself in society’s eyes as a person who is seem as a poor and sinful human being to being honorable and admirable.
At the end of Hester’s life she is known as a happy, capable, and honorable legend. You know that Hawthorne is presenting the peak of Hester’s redemption when the town debates as to whether or not Hester’s letter can be removed. Hester’s reply to the debate over the removal of her letter is “It lies not in the pleasure of the magistrates to take off this badge…. Were I worthy to be quit of it, it would fall away of its own nature, or be transformed into something that should speak a different purport. (Hawthorne 116) Through this quote, Hester is saying the letter can’t and shall not be removed. Furthermore, that only God’s word and the course of nature can result in the letter vanishing from her bosom, not the townspeople’s words. Hester is an honorable woman even after she passes away. She is remembered and served as a legend. It is said that “As if the dust of the two sleepers had no right to mingle. Yet, one tombstone served for both. ” (Hawthorne 180) This quote summarizes all of societies view on Hester.
Even though Hester had committed infidelity, they still bury her next to her true lover with a shared gravestone. Even in the strictest of all environments, Hester was able to make an exception to Puritan rules and values. Redeeming yourself may take long and require hard work, but if you are committed to turning yourself around, you can. In the beginning of the novel, people are ashamed of Hester’s immorality and they think that her punishment is not nearly as severe as her sin. Society wanted nothing to do with Hester because they saw her as nothing, but a sinner and no longer a Puritan.
Throughout the novel, Hester begins to make something of her, beginning with not dwelling on her sin any longer and lifting her chin up high. She commits great acts of kindness for the poor and for the needy to the point where people begin to admire Hester for her acts such caring deeds. All throughout the novel, Hester proves that redeeming yourself is a process. You cannot just apologize for the wrong you have done and be forgiven; you have to take one step at a time. Once you reach the top of the staircase, you have proven you are worthy and capable of being fully redeemed.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 25 November 2016
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