Hester's Isolation and Alienation in The Scarlet Letter


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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 and

isolation.

 

 

        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,

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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.

 


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