The Transformation of Hester in The Scarlet Letter
The Puritans came from England in the sixteen hundreds to break
free from the laws and regulations made by the king of England. In the new
world, they were able to practice their own form of religion. The Puritans
believed in God and His laws. "A Young Puritan's Code" was "Being sensible,
that I am unable to do anything without God's help, I do humbly entreat him
by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions so far as they are
agreeable to his will, for Christ sake." (Jonathan Edwards
) And they had
over fourteen resolutions to keep. Although this is Jonathan Edwards
interpretation, it was most likely the way the Puritan lived. And they
probably obeyed it out of fear for their life. For sinners are in the
hands of a angry God.
Many years later Nathaniel Hawthorn was greatly interested by the
Puritans. This 19th-century American novelist, was born on July 4, in
Salem, Massachusetts, and died May 11, 1864. He was the first American
writer to apply artistic judgment to Puritan society. He was intrigued by
the psychological insight into the complexities of human motivations and
actions. In The Scarlet Letter
, he expressed one of the central legacies
of American Puritanism, using the plight of Hester
Prynne and Arthur
Dimmesdale to illustrate the conflict between the desire to confess and the
necessity of self-concealment. Hawthorne grew up with his two sisters and
their widowed mother, and an uncle saw to his education at Bowdoin College.
In 1852, Hawthorne wrote the campaign biography of Franklin Pierce, an old
college friend. The best of Hawthorn's early fiction was gathered in
Twice-Told Tales, Mosses from an Old Manse, and The Snow-Image. These
capture the complexity's of the New England Puritan heritage. Hawthorne's
writing had a wide range of influence upon people, such as Melville who
dedicated the great classic Moby-Dick to him. One of Hawthorne's most
famous novels is The Scarlet Letter. One of his characters (Hester Prynne)
is changed throughout the novel. Hester changes three different times,
from being a shamed woman to a capable women and then to a healer.
Hester Prynne emerges from the prison, proud and beautiful wearing
an elaborately embroidered scarlet letter A on her chest and carrying a
three month old baby. While she is standing on the scaffold she becomes
aware of the stern faces looking up at her. Hester painfully realizes her
present position of shame and punishment. Society will not forgive her for
the adultery that she has committed because of the Puritan age in which
they live. Most of the old women think she should have a worse punishment.
One of them even says "At the very least, they should have put the brand of
a hot iron on Hester Prynne's forehead" (50). At this point in time,
society will not forgive Hester and she will not forgive herself. Going
through all this shame and embarrassment, the feelings of torment and
ridicule begins to change Hester, although she does not notice it till
later, she is becoming a better person from all that is happening to her.
Not only does Hester change mentally, but she also changes
physically. The warmth, charm and passion which she once possessed appears
to have been replaced by coldness, severity, and drabness. She hides her
beautiful hair under a cap and has no more enthusiasm. Hester only
demonstrates warmth and charm around Pearl. Society also begins to view
her differently. Some people even feel as though she can see "right
through them" and know their sins. They do not look at her as badly as
they did at first, because she is changing. "The letter was the symbol of
her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her-so much power to do and
power to sympathize-that many people refused to interpret the scarlet "A";
by its original signification. They said that it meant "Able"; so strong
was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength." (139). She is now beginning
to go through some of the most extensive changes of her life. She is
filled with many different feelings of torment and self worthiness, even at
one point in time she considers suicide. But all these feelings are making
her a stronger and more intelligent person.
Hester learns from her sin, and she grows strong as a result of
accepting her punishment. "The scarlet letter was her passport into
regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude!
These had been her teachers-stern and wild ones-and they had made her
strong." (170). A little more than half way through the novel, Hester has
changed into a women capable to help others and being respected by them.
Society has now forgiven her and some may even admire her. Although she
wears the letter A long after she was able to take it off, she decides to
take it to her grave. Hester might have worn that letter so long, to prove
that she has nothing to hide. Hester has found the happiness that comes
from being at peace with oneself, with society, and with God.
Throughout this novel Hester Prynne changes from a shameful scared
woman, to one that is able and not afraid of what the future has to hold.
Hester gained a wisdom through her suffering. Now the village people come
to her for guidance with their sorrows and problems, although Hester was
never a true Puritan. But Hester always did try to live up to the Puritan