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.
"The Scarlet Letter and the Book of Esther: Scriptural Letter and Narrative Life." Studies in American Fiction (1995): 131-144. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: St. Martins, 1991.
114-126 Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Signet Classics Edition. New York: New American Library, 1999. Thrailkill, Jane F. “The Doctor and the Minister.” From Studies in American Fiction 34, no.
The harsh judgmental conditions of Puritan society are the cause of isolation for these characters and eventually lead to their damnation. The literary works written by Hawthorne, such as "Young Goodman Brown," "The Minister's Black Veil," and The Scarlet Letter, all contain characters that face these types of conditions. Goodman Brown, Minister Hooper, and Hester Pryne are isolated from society because of their guilty consciences, and desire to hide their shame. Eventually, each character is given a chance to redeem themselves and avoid damnation. In the short story, "Young Goodman Brown," the character of Goodman Brown has an experience that changes his entire perspective on life.
As a consequence of his attempt to hide the truth, Minister Dimmesdale felt the guilt course through him, and that inner feeling of remorse caused his health to decline, his speeches to feel hypocritical, and his belief in the Lord’s mercy to waver. On the contrary, Hester’s shame revealed itself. With the public eye continually frowning upon her, she was punished thoroughly and accepted it. While both Hester and Dimmesdale committed the same transgression, each dealt with the offense in a different way, which foretold the condition of the rest of his/her life. From the moment of her daughter’s birth, Hester felt the punishment of both God and the community of Boston.
The community’s expectations cause Dimmesdale to punish himself for his sin instead of confessing. He struggles for years to come to terms with his mistake, and in the end he is able to accept his true identity and confess his sin publicly. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne illustrates how the community’s influence over Dimmesdale prevents him from embracing his true identity, highlighting the negative effects the community can have on a person. Negative and restrictive diction are used to portray the detrimental aspects of the community’s strict laws, which prevent Dimmesdale from revealing his true identity to the public. The Puritans are described as, “…a people amongst whom religion and law [are] almost identical, and in whose character both [are] so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and the severest acts of public discipline [are] alike made venerable and awful,” illustrating the high expectations of the community and the pressure their laws place on Dimmesdale (Hawthorne 47-48).
New Essays on the Scarlet Letter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gross, Seymour, ( 1988). The Scarlet Letter. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
West Cornwall, CT.: Locust Hill, 1988. 139-147. Evans, Robert C. and Katie Magaw. “Irony and Paradox in Frank O’Connor’s Style.” Frank O’Connor: New Perspectives. Eds.
The Scarlet Letter: Ed. Ross C. Murfin. New York, New York: Bedford Books of St. Martins P., (1991): 58. 15. ibid. 57.
Dibble, Terry J., Cliff Notes on The Scarlet Letter, Lincoln, Cliff Notes, Inc., 1988. Fogle, Richard Harter, "The Scarlet Letter," Hawthorne's Fiction The Light and The Dark, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1975. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: St. Martins, 1991.