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The Righteous Hester Prynne of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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The Strong and Righteous Hester of The Scarlet Letter

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us," stated Oliver Wendell Holmes. This eventually proves to be especially true for Hester Prynne, the main character in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne, a fair young maiden whose husband had disappeared two years prior to the opening of the novel, has an affair with the pastor of her Puritan church, resulting in the birth of her child Pearl. Because of this act of adultery, Hester Prynne is branded by the scarlet letter "A," which she is forced to forever wear upon her attire. The plot thickens as Hester's former husband returns to New England and becomes fixated upon the idea of revenge towards Hester's anonymous partner in sin. At the same time, the feeble pastor slowly begins to waste away towards the gloomy gates of death. However, as those around her grow ever weaker or morally decayed, Hester grows ever stronger. Hester grows so strong and morally righteous that it appears that she is actually favored by Hawthorne despite her "sin." The qualities which cause Hester to be favored are her traits of helpfulness towards others, her intense maternal love towards Pearl, and her defiance and pride demonstrated towards those who attempt to impose their values upon her.

Even as those she assisted were cruel towards her, Hester remained generous and helpful towards others. For example, after becoming recognized as a talented seamstress and gradually beginning to earn fairly large sums of money, "Hester bestowed all her superfluous means in charity, on wretches less miserable than herself, and who not unfrequently insulted the hand that fed them."...

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... compared with a person's true nature. For Hester Prynne, though she had sinned in her past, she came across as strong and admirable because she was a benevolent person on the inside. She sought purity and truth to compensate for her unalterable past. Therefore, her wrongdoings were eventually overlooked in enlightenment of her better qualities. A coward can hind in the shadows of reputations and prejudgments, but only a hero can overcome these and manage to step into the daylight.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Canby, Henry S. (1996). "A Skeptic Incompatible with His Time and His Past." Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne (pp. 55- 63). San Diego: Greenhaven.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: St. Martins, 1991.

Scharnhorst, Gary. The Critical Response to Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. New York: Greenwood, 1992.
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