Ap Literature & Composition
Character analysis: The Scarlet Letter
In The Scarlet Letter Hester Prynne is a prime example of Hawthorne’s common transformation of individuals within his books.These mutations involve the qualities and attributes of her physical appearance, feminine emotions and reputation among the townspeople. Throughout the novel these elements of Hester’s character develop and change several times providing the reader with a better understanding of the characters.
Hester Prynne, the main character, is frowned upon by the townspeople because she committed adultery.Hester is described in the first scene as a tall woman with a “figure of perfect elegance on a large scale.” Her most distinctive feature is her “dark and overflowing hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam”. Hawthorne used this description as foreshadowing because later on in the novel he described Hester’s appearance after her punishment. “Her beautiful hair is hidden under her cap, her beauty and warmth are gone, buried under the burden of the elaborate scarlet letter on her bosom”.(Hawthorne,2) The townspeople basically shunned her and threw her in jail. When released from jail Hester reunited with her 3 month old baby the product of her “sin” and “adultery”. This begins Hester’s transformation. Once her sin is exposed, the townspeople immediately start to look at and treat her differently. She was even forced to wear a big red “A” on her chest symbolizing her crime of adultery.Through all of the bashing and disrespect hester still remained strong and didn’t break , reflecting her strong personality, A trait that describes hester the best is strength. Strong in her mind and heart. This is what makes her so unique and attractive to everyone.Hawthorne leads the reader to believe that her strength was always deep down inside; but the scarlet letter just helped bring it out. Hester possesses a very resistant and dignified attitude. This attitude is shown from the beginning as she holds her head high, despite the looks of disgust. “Stretching forth the official staff in his left hand, he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young woman, whom he thus drew forward; until, on the threshold of the prison door, she repelled him, by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free will” (hawthorne,65). Hester does her best to be there for her daughter, even when she was faced with her own burdens. And despite having been through so much in her life, Hester gives out her love whenever she can.
Hester finally gets the break in life she’s been waiting for. She struggled with seven years of shame and guilt, to finally be the person she used to be. Her rekindled love with Arthur makes her happy again, and everything seems right for them. She’s filled with hope that her life will return back to normal . She feels resurrected ;and the guilt is lifted from her shoulders.You can tell Hester Prynne is changing because later on in the book she admits her wrong doings to her husband. “I have greatly wronged thee” (Hawthorne, 79). Hester also shows signs of unstable attitudes which leads the reader to believe that they are going to change.
Later on in chapter five hester decides to move to the outskirts of town in a cottage. She does this because she thinks that this will help her change “has been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment” (Hawthorne,84). That shows that she is accepting the fact that her action was a sin and she’s ready to change. This shows another character trait determination and drive , but we later realize that Prynne is only staying in the outskirts of town because Reverend Dimmesdale, the father of her child, lives there and she hopes to someday marry him thinking that’ll help her sin. Hester’s character is tested because she thinks all the things she enjoys doing contain sin or has something to do with sin. Which shows that she clearly likes it and she would do it again. That goes against everything that she stands for or at least what Hawthorne makes you believe.
The strength of her character continues to be tested when in the second part of the book she no longer feels sorry for what she has done. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, this makes me believe that either she is over her sin and feels redeemed or that she is over the sin and she no longer cares what people think Later on you realize that she doesn’t feel sorry anymore because she doesn’t think it was such an evil sin and she is not sorry for committing it. Hester wearing the scarlet letter was supposed to remind her and the townspeople about her sin but hawthorne came to the conclusion that ” The scarlet letter had not done its office” (160).
The other characters in the scarlet letter also had a lot to do with Hester’s changes and transformation. Arthur Dimmesdale one of the main characters is used as a contrast to Hester because he is weak and she is strong. Throughout the novel dimmesdale is portrayed as a nervous and sensitive person, but he was stronger than we assumed. He had a great amount of control because he also dealt with the disapproval and bashing from commiting the sin.That shows a lot of strength. Hawthorne makes you believe that dimmesdale is weak because he wants Hester to confess their sins and she refuses he doesn’t have the guts to do it himself which makes him seem weak. This makes dimmesdale sin even bigger than Hester’s because her sin is exposed and dimmesdale still continues to lie to everyone including himself. This contradicts what we think about his character because this is another sign of strength him hiding his sin and the weight of it on his shoulders says a lot.
Another character who is often misunderstood but still makes an impact is pearl.Pearl is the product of Hester and Arthur’s sin. From birth pearl is branded with the letter “A” but it means Amorality instead of adultery. Pearl was used as punishment for hester. God gave hester a very unique child that she cannot get away from and has to deal with. Pearl is always constantly nagging. Pearl would harass her mother over the scarlet “A” which she had to wear constantly. And, Pearl would also make her own “A” to wear, and sometimes played games with her mother’s. ” When Hester would go into town with Pearl, the other children would make fun of her and Pearl would yell back and throw dirt at them, So in this case, Pearl symbolized the decimation of Hester’s social life and mental state”. Even though hester went through a lot of things with pearl hester felt as though pearl was a prize and that she was lucky to have her. Which leads the reader to believe that pearl is another reason for hester’s strength.
Pearl is basically used as symbolism throughout the story showing hester’s struggles . she symbolized the ultimate scarlet letter, because if Pearl had never been born, Hester would have never been found guilty of adultery, and would have never had to wear that burden on her chest.