SCARLET LETTER - Feminism Essay

Submitted By Victoria-Skie
Words: 1047
Pages: 5

Victoria Marchlewski
English 10 H
Period 5
The Scarlet Letter ­ Final Test (Essay) #6 Often in literature, women are portrayed as weak or evil. Eve caused original sin, Miss
Havisham, from Charles Dickens’s
Great Expectations
, hated men because of heartbreak, and Cruella de Vil planned to murder dogs for their coats. However, in
The Scarlet Letter
, Nathaniel Hawthorne shows the role of a woman in a different light. Hester Prynne, the main character, makes her own decisions without causing her community to fall apart. Throughout the novel, Hester exemplifies early feminist qualities. She displays her feminism by disregarding the labels and stereotypes she is associated with. This contrasts the reserved and passive nature of women in the Puritan era. On the other hand, she is gentle and kind, showing the idealistic qualities of Puritan women. The fact that women were considered the ‘weaker sex’ did not stop Hester from exhibiting remarkable strength within herself or while interacting with the members of her Salem community. Hester’s feminist ideas are most clearly evident through her sexual independence, her unwillingness to abide to society’s standard of women, and her encounters with those around her.
Hester’s strength of her sexual nature, is one of the main reasons she can be considered an early feminist. Following her sexual desires resulted in a sin that was unacceptable in Puritan society ­ adultery. The affair Hester had with Reverend Dimmesdale caused the birth of Pearl, and threatened the moral standards of Puritan beliefs. Had Hester not been a woman, she would not have only received a scarlet letter ‘A’ and three hours of public shaming, but she most probably would have been put to death. But, because she was now a mother of young Pearl, the townspeople decided that the constant reminder of her sin would be punishment enough. Women of the Puritan era were taught to be modest and shy in relation to situations that were sexual in nature. Women were normally exiled for the crime of adultery, yet Hester lived with her crime and the torment it brought on. Although it may have made trouble in her Puritan community, Hester demonstrated continuous feminist ideals of sexual independence. Hester’s social behavior also defined her as a feminist. Her refusal to surrender to the requests of the church and community to reveal the name of Pearl’s father dismissed of the inherent belief that women had to be submissive. Despite Hester’s sin, she did not allow the communities perception of her alter her own self esteem or pride. The self­pity and self­loathing expected to accompany the punishments she received were unacceptable in Hester’s eyes. She took comfort in the love of her

daughter and mocked the scarlet letter “A” which embellished her dress. The “A” which should have dishonored her name became a symbol against conformity and stereotypes. Beautifully embroidered by
Hester, it made a joke out of the punishment which had been enforced by the church and state.
The location of Hester and Pearl also proved her moral differences from the rest of the society.
They lived in the woods, on the outskirts of town. Hester’s self­reliance gave her ability to stay in control of life in the untamed country side. The isolated home was a sanctuary, but also worked as a buffer between a world that judged and the free nature of Hester’s soul. But it is important to note that
Hester did not retreat to the woods due to the shame or adversity which she was faced within the city.
Instead, she made a home in the forest because she could live independently and true to herself there.
From parenting Pearl to wearing a decorated “A” proudly upon her chest, Hester allowed her feminist beliefs to expand into the world around her ­ regardless of the consequences.
The three people affected most by Hester’s feminist ideals were Dimmesdale, Chillingworth and Pearl. Hester and Dimmesdale shared