Hester’s Character Change in the Scarlet Letter
Three pillars of ‘A’
Have you ever seen a wretched person become an inspiration? Hester Prynne’s character journeys through changes in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, “The Scarlet Letter”. After committing the sin of adultery, Hester is thrown into a world of ignominy when the town decrees that the scarlet letter ‘A’ will be forever placed upon her bosom signifying her sin. Despite this humiliation, Hester refuses to reveal the name of her fellow adulterer much to the displeasure of the townspeople. Courtesy of this letter and her sin, Hester’s character goes through an array of vicissitudes. Before receiving the scarlet letter, she was a proud child, but her character changes once she is branded with the letter, because she becomes regretful, however, it’s because of the scarlet letter, that Hester Prynne becomes an inspiration.
As all of us were, Hester once was a child with dreams. Naturally, as a child, before Hester had gotten the scarlet letter, she was the picture of innocence. As an innocent child, “Hester had vainly imagined that she herself might be the destined prophetess”(232.33-34). As a child, it is natural to have dreams for the future. For Hester in particular, becoming a prophetess would be phenomenal in this Puritan based society. However, Hester believed herself to be “the destined prophetess…”. “the…” being an article indicating one, Hester implies that she wants to be the only prophetess. The further usage of “destined…” implies that it’s fated for her to be the only prophetess in this Puritan town. The combination of these factors give reason to believe that Hester’s character, as a child, was proud. Hester later goes on to describe herself physically as she stands on the scaffold and reflects on her past by remembering her parents and “Her own face, glowing with girlish beauty, and illuminating all the interior of the dusky mirror in which she had been wont to gaze at it.”(49.4-6). Hester proudly describes her physical appearance, when she was younger, without the inclusion of a single flaw. She illustrates herself using adjectives like “glowing…” and “illuminating…” which leads to the presumption that Hester, as a proud child, is a significant person who illuminates to draw attention to herself. Hester expresses the magnitude of her glow though the fact that even the “dusky mirror” couldn’t darken her beauty. She’s is bursting with such radiance that even the darkness of the mirror couldn’t dim her splendor. As a child, Hester can be characterized as an egoist willing to flaunt her aspirations and physical features for all to see. However, her character changes once she receives the scarlet letter.
Upon the embroidered scarlet letter being sown upon her bosom, Hester soon becomes a remorseful person for committing such a scandalous sin in a purely religious town. Immersed in regret, Hester is “[A] woman stained with sin, bowed down with shame, or even burdened with a life-long sorrow.”(232-233.36-2). Hester becomes remorseful because of her sin. She is “stained with sin…” by the scarlet letter embroidered on her bosom. The embroidering was done with strength and excellent quality, which ensures that the scarlet letter staining Hester’s clothes will not fall of anytime soon. The scarlet “A” that rests clearly on her bosom allows all, including foreigners, to know of her sin, therefore she will not be able to escape this stain of sin. Furthermore, the town’s shunning causes her to be “bowed down with shame…”. Walking down the street, Hester would sometimes attempt to cover over the letter in Hester becomes buried in this “life long sorrow…” due to the sin. Being buried in this eternal sorrow makes it challenging for Hester to find happiness and forgiveness, therefore she becomes regretful for the sin she has committed and the consequences bestowed upon her because of it. Hester found herself to be lost in a sea of regret as she “[W]andered without a clue in the dark labyrinth of the mind”(145.8-9). Once she has committed the sin and the her was placed on display for all to judge, Hester became sorrowful and sought happiness, but could not find a way to forgive a sin that is punishable by death. Through her mind she is constantly searching through this “dark labyrinth of the mind…”. The mind itself is complicated to navigate, but if her mind is figuratively based off of a labyrinth, Hester makes it increasingly difficult to find joy. However, on top of that, it is dark in her mind, therefore it is dark in the labyrinth. “Without a clue…”, Hester has no idea where to even begin searching for happiness and forgiveness. Hester reveals that her character has changed from prideful to remorseful as she becomes lost searching for forgiveness.
The scarlet letter proved to be major trial in Hester Prynne’s life as her character changes over the time since the letter was placed upon her bosom. “[I]n the lapse of the toilsome, thoughtful, and self-devoted years that made up Hester’s life, the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world’s scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with reverence too.”(232.16-20). Over time, Hester becomes an inspiration and is looked upon with awe. Hester thought to turn around her life by embroidering to the best of her ability and giving food to the poor. The townspeople look at her as an inspiration due to her fighting spirit that enables her to change her life for the better. The townspeople who once scorned her now look at Hester with respect and awe. Focusing more on the women of the town, the “[W]omen… came to Hester’s cottage, demanding why they were so wretched, and what the remedy! Hester comforted and counseled them, as best she might.”(232.23-29). Now that the townspeople now see as an inspiration, they, especially the woman, look to her for wisdom. When they had done something wrong, they came to Hester for her advice. Hester, living up to her description, “comforted and counseled them…” to the best of her ability. It was truly amazing to see a woman burdened with sin come to be an inspiration to others around her.
Hawthorne depicts Hester’s character change in the “Scarlet Letter” through age and experiences. When she is a child, she proves to be prideful by flaunting her beauty and her aspirations towards becoming a prophetess. Later, when she becomes older and had committed her sin of adultery, she is remorseful as she becomes lost inside the labyrinth of her mind. She searches for happiness and forgiveness, but she does not have a clue of where to locate it, thus her change in character is shown. However, it does not end here. Hester character changes again, this time for the better. She becomes an inspiration to the townspeople by helping the poor and embroidering. Women especially come to her for advice in order to deal with their own sins and problems. Throughout the novel, Hester’s character devolved from prideful to regretful, but eventually, evolves as she becomes an inspirational person.
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