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The Feminist Scarlet Letter

Powerful Essays
The Scarlet Letter can easily be seen as an early feminist piece of work. Nathaniel Hawthorne created a story that exemplifies Hester as a strong female character living with her choices, whether they were good or bad, and also as the protagonist. He also presents the daughter of Hester, Pearl, as an intelligent female, especially for her age. He goes on to prove man as imperfect through both the characters of Dimmesdale and of Chillingworth. With the situation that all the characters face, Hawthorne establishes the female as the triumphant one, accomplishing something that, during Nathaniel Hawthorne’s time, authors did not attempt.
In the beginning of the book, Hawthorne paints the picture of a female named Hester who has sinned. Not only is she publicly ostracized for having an affair while unmarried, but her major repercussion, her daughter, receives her punishment as well because she derives directly from sin. It is through these tribulations that Hawthorne exemplifies Hester and Pearl, no matter how young, as strong, independent females. These characteristics were not easily applied to females during this time. Hawthorne’s ability to show Hester collected and under control to the crowd, although she may have felt otherwise inside, while she exits the prison and while she is on the scaffold, exhibits her as a strong woman. The fact that Hester exits the prison “by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free will”, and the fact that while on the scaffold, under pressure, Hester refuses to give the name of the father of her child, also proves her strength and compassion. She states, “Never!....It is too deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And would that I might endure his agony, as well
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as mine!” To Hester, there is no reasons to put both shame on her and her partner when she can take all the shame. She proves herself to be selfless, another strong characteristic that exemplifies feminist attributes in the book. At first, when Hester is confronted by her ex-husband Chillingworth, she is portrayed as weak and feeble. This trait does not go on to prove Hester as a huge feminist character for the Scarlet Letter, but as the book continues, Hester receives the strength to stand up to him and realizes there is no need ...

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... him feeble. In the end, he frees himself from his guilt by admitting to everyone his sin. He crumbles under the anxiety of holding his secret inwards revealing Dimmesdale to be a rather weak male protagonist. He also is not strong enough support Hester, to show love towards Hester, or to take his own burden of sin on himself, although he does realize how wrong he is. His inability to outwardly show his sin like Hester proves Hester to be the stronger one which supports the idea that Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a feminist composition.
With a strong female protagonist and two mentally weak males, it is hard to consider Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter anything but a feminist treatise. He obviously intended to put down not only Puritanism, which is an obvious aspect of the novel, but to establish a powerful, secure female in American literature. Hester proves, although she has sinned in the past, she can confront her mistakes, take care of herself and her child, and help others at the same time. She can withhold a position in society that many can respect because of her character something the males of the story obviously could not succeed at doing.
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