"The Scarlet Letter"
Chapter XVIII, 'A Flood of Sunshine'
Below is a brief article on Hawthorne's Hester Prynne, presented here as a multifaceted character. Various perspectives are given, more notably, a feminist approach (a critique of the patriarchal tradition) and a more traditional literary approach (an interpretation based on the biographical and historical contexts of a text). The views presented in this article are meant to implement your own, already formulated, vision of Hester, not replace it. In other words, please do not feel compelled to change your argument because of what the article proposes.
Feel free, however, to include any or all parts of the article in your final draft. The issues presented in the article will need to be developed and discussed further and, of course, supported. For instance, if you want to use the quote "Hester Prynne may seem a victim and an object, but she also shows great personal strength", you will need to find specific moments in the novel when her vulnerability is most apparent, and moments when her strength comes through. You will also have to discuss whether Hester's strength helps her conform to Puritan ways, or whether it upsets the established order instead. Remember to be specific.
Remember that, while there is no single "correct" interpretation of any work, you are expected to make a convincing argument for your own interpretation by presenting strong textual evidence. Your vision must, of course, "fit" our question.
Hester Prynne: Sinner, Victim, Object, Winner - An Article
The Major Themes of "The Scarlet Letter"
In "The Scarlet Letter", Hawthorne addresses through his main characters the following themes:
Sin and redemption
Alienation and The Supernatural
Man and the Natural Law
Women and Feminism
Hawthorne's View of the Affair
Critics are divided over Hawthorne’s attitude to Hester’s affair, and whether the novel ultimately condemns or condones her actions.
What do you think Hawthorne’s views are? What are your own?
“Happy you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your
bosom! Mine burns in secret! Thou little knowest what a relief it is,
after the torment of a seven years’ cheat, to look into an eye that
recognizes me for what I am!” (p. 131)
Hawthorne's View of Hester
We are left at the end of Hawthorne's novel with Hester returning alone to New England. Place, one might argue, has a strong pull on an individual. Recall also that women come to her to seek counsel on all matters of life. For Hawthorne, Hester is the self-reliant woman who believed "the world's law was no law for her mind" (p.107).
The following quote speaks of Hawthorne's vision of Hester as a 'reformer':
Hester Prynne "had long since recognized the impossibility that any mission of divine and mysterious truth should be confined to a woman stained with sin, bowed down with shame, or even burdened with a life-long sorrow. The angel and apostle of the coming revelation must be a woman, indeed, but lofty, pure, and beautiful; and wise" (p.166).
Can Hester be viewed as a 'reformer'? As a woman capable of instigating social change? What do her words in the quote above (Hawthorne's words too) suggest?
"No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true."
Chapter XX, 'The Minister in a Maze'