Unrelenting Selflessness In The Scarlet Letter, By Nathaniel Hawthorne

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In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s well known novel, The Scarlet Letter, extensive diction and intense imagery are used to portray the overall tone of the characters. In particular, Hester Prynne, the wearer of the Scarlet Letter, receives plentiful positive characterization throughout the novel. Hester’s character most notably develops through the town’s peoples ever-changing views on the scarlet letter, the copious mentions of her bravery, and her ability to take care of herself, Pearl, and others, even when she reaches the point where most would give up and wallow in their suffering. One of Hester’s greatest qualities is her unrelenting selflessness. Despite her constant mental anguish due to her sin, the constant stares and rude comments, and the…show more content…
Three gossips present at Hester’s public shaming moan at Hester’s “merciful” punishment, one even going as far as declaring “This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die.” (Hawthorne 36). As time passes, however, and Hester dutifully lives out her penance, the people start to see the piety of her everyday actions. After seven years, they go from crying for her death to exclaiming “None so ready as she to give of her little substance to every demand of poverty…None so self-devoted as Hester, when pestilence stalked through the town.” (Hawthorne 110). They also declared her “a self-ordained Sister of Mercy…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.” (111). When the people of Hester’s town managed to stop gawking at Hester, they easily saw her true nature and changed their ideas to…show more content…
When being questioned on the identity of her child’s father, Hester unflinchingly refuses to give him up, shouting “I will not speak!…my child must seek a heavenly Father; she shall never know an earthly one!” (47). Hester takes on the full brunt of adultery, allowing Dimmesdale to continue on with his life and frees him from the public ridicule the magistrates force upon her. She then stands on the scaffold for three hours, subject to the townspeople’s disdain and condescending remarks. However, Hester bears it all “with glazed eyed, and an air of weary indifference.” (48). Hester does not break down and cry, or wail, or beg for forgiveness, or confess who she sinned with; she stands defiantly strong in the face of the harsh Puritan law and answers to her crime. After, when Hester must put the pieces of her life back together, she continues to show her iron backbone and sheer determination by using her marvelous talent with needle work “to supply food for her thriving infant and herself.” (56). Some of her clients relish in making snide remarks and lewd commends towards Hester while she works, yet Hester never gives them the satisfaction of her reaction. Nathaniel Hawthorne paints Hester Prynne as a person, a person that made mistakes, but who worked tirelessly to atone for them. Hawthorne’s use of of positive diction and profound imagery also set Hester’s tone as a woman scorned, but
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