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The Transformation of Hester in The Scarlet Letter

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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

code.

 

 

 

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