Gender Roles in The Scarlet Letter

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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’ was considered by many as the controversial novel of its time, given its themes of pride, sin and vengeance. It was also set in a time when very few were thinking about the equality of of men and women, but Hawthorne managed to bring gender-based inequality to light through the novel’s male-dominated Puritan setting and by reversing the gender roles of characters, such as Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. Therefore, it is my belief that the religious setting of this novel in the Puritan society allowed further emphasis of the profound differences between the character’s gender roles, thereby creating deeper contrast and revealing the flaws of the Puritan’s preconceived notions of patriarchal societal norms. ‘The Scarlet Letter’ illustrates the lives of Hester Prynne, her daughter Pearl, local preacher Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester’s husband (whom uses the alias of Roger Chillingworth in order to disguise his true identity), and how they are affected after Hester committed an adulterous act with Dimmesdale, hence conceiving Pearl. This mother and child are then ostracized by society, and Hester is sentenced to jail, forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her chest as a symbol of her sin. The novel continues to narrate the four characters’ story for the following few years, until Hester passes away and is buried near Chillingworth (whom had died earlier on), both sharing a letter “A” on their gravestones. Religion and law were considered nearly synonymous in Puritan society, as demonstrated by “the same solemnity of demeanour” amongst the spectators, “as befitted a people among whom religion and law were almost identical” when Hester stepped out of her prison cell. Even th... ... middle of paper ... ...e ownership of his sin, gradually reducing his stance as the virtuous minister to a pathetic man desperate pleading that Hester reveal his sin for him instead. Whilst Hester dealt with her punishment with grace and dignity, Dimmesdale struggled very obviously to no avail with his guilt. Thus, the contrast created between the two characters exhibits the unwavering strength of female valor, in the face of Dimmesdale's "unmanly" actions. Even more so, Hester's admission of her sin "made her strong[er]"and gained communal respect for her, whilst Dimmesdale was "broken down by long and exquisite suffering", a mere shell of the man he had used to be. The respect that Hester garnered from this highly Puritan and patriarchal society attests to the innate strength of women regardless of preconception of their inferiority. Works Cited The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
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