Hester's Isolation and Alienation in The Scarlet Letter
In Nathaniel Hawthorn's The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne and
Reverend Dimmsdale have committed adultery, an unacceptable sin during the
Puritan times. As a result of their sin, a child is born, whom the mother
names Pearl. Out of her own free will Hester
has to face major punishments.
She has to serve many months in prison, stand on the scaffold for three
hours under public scrutiny, and attach a scarlet letter
, "A" on her chest
every day as long as she remained in the town of Boston. The letter "A"
was to identify Hester Prynne as an adulteress and as an immoral human
being. "Thus the young and the pure would be taught to look at her, with
the letter flaming on her chest", also "as the figure, the body and the
reality of sin"(73). Holding on to sin can lead to alienation
One reason Hester was alienated was her refusal to identify the
other adulterer. When Hester is released from prison and stood upon the
scaffold, she was asked to reveal the name of whom she committed the sin
with. Having a heart blinded by love Hester choose to stay in the town and
wear the scarlet letter "A" instead of revealing the other adulterer. She
faced society only to protect and be close to the man she still loved. The
"impulsive and passionate nature" (54), which to Hester seemed pure and
natural had to be faced under humiliation alone, without the partner of sin.
It seemed as though she was paying not only her own consequence, but that
of her lovers as well. Saying so herself while standing on the scaffold "I
might face his agony as well as mine!" (64). Now taking on all blame she
has given "up all her individuality. Now she would become the "general
symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they
might vivify and embody their images of woman's frailty
and sinful passion" (73). After the sin had been revealed Hester never
again felt she was accepted by society. It seemed to her as though "every
gesture, every word, and even the silence of those whom she came in contact,
implied, and often expressed, that she was banished" (78) from the town.
Hester was unable to walk through town with out a child babbling a rude
gesture or a strangers eye upon her bosom.
After the crime of adultery was known to all, Hester's appearance
changed completely. Her clothing and the way she wore her hair changed
from being beautiful and revealing to plain and common. It seemed Hester
tried to blend in as much as possible and to go unnoticed. Her "ornament,-
-the scarlet letter,--which was her doom to wear" (79) shown out quite
obviously to everyone throughout the town. Assuming the encounters with
the scarlet letter would have some kind of effect of immunity was quite the
opposite of what truly happened. "From first to last, in short, Hester
Prynne had always this dreadful agony in feeling a human eye upon the
token; the spot never grew callus; it seemed, on the contrary, to grow more
sensitive with daily torture"(79).
Hester and Pearl were placed outside of town in an abandoned
cottage away from all habitation. Small children would sneak up to catch a
glimpse of the scarlet letter. After they had eyed it from the window they
would "scamper off with contagious fear" (75) as if the scarlet letter
burned like fire. Hester's great skill in needlework probably saved her
from dying of loneliness because she hadn't "a friend on earth who dared to
show himself" (75). And though Hester was most likely the best seamstress
in Boston she was unable to embroider a wedding vale for any bride. The
white vale symbolized purity and the hands of Hester were not pure. This
was one specific area in which society alienated her.
Holding on to sin can lead to alienation and isolation. Hester's
sin was that she fell in love with another man and committed adultery with
him. If Hester could have let the love for Dimmsdale free and named him as
the other adulterer she would not have suffered so badly from the isolation
and alienation that she did.