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Hester's Psychological Alienation in The Scarlet Letter

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Hester's Psychological Alienation in The Scarlet Letter

Throughout his book The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne is preoccupied

with the relationship between the individual and society. Hester's sin and

subsequent condemnation alienate her. No where is this alienation more

apparent than in Chapter 5, "Hester at her Needle". Condemned by her sin

of passion, Hester is separated from her community, not only physically,

as she lives on the edge of the town, but also socially. In this chapter,

Hawthorne presents the most profoundly destructive aspect of her

estrangement in her psychological condition. Hester, deemed a social

pariah, is left alone in the world, with only her thoughts to keep her

company. In her present condition it becomes apparent that her outlook on

life has changed for the worst.

Hester's life becomes a pitiful mess as she feels she must reject any

happiness she might gain from her meager subsistence. She does not accept

any joy into her life and she constantly punishes herself for committing

her sin. Having been alienated from and by her community Hester forces

herself to live plainly and simply. She "strove to cast ["passionate and

desperate joy"] from her." She loves to sew, as women such as herself

"derive a pleasure...from the delicate toil of the needle," but she feels she

does not deserve the gratification. Though sewing could be "soothing, the

passion of her life ...Like all other joys, she rejected it as a

sin." Hester no longer feels worthy to wear the finery she is capable of

sewing for herself. All of the "gorgeously beautiful" things she has "a

taste for" are sold to others, they ...

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...in her mind. The poor girl is left without a friend in the world and her

trust in humans falters and becomes tainted. Her self confidence is a

shattered mess as well. Because of her psychological alienation Hester's

outlook on life has become a murky pit with no hope of escape and no

optimism for the future.

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.

James, Henry. From "Hawthorne" [1879]. The Scarlet Letter: Text, Sources, Criticism. Kenneth S. Lynn. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1961.

Johnson, Claudia D. Hawthorne: A Collection of Critical Essays. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1998.

Van Doren, Mark. " The Scarlet Letter" [1949]. Hawthorne: A Collection of Critical Essays. A. N. Kaul, ed. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.
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