Feminism In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter through the Eyes of a Feminist Literary Critic

It has been debated whether Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter to make a statement about the treatment of women or to simply create a compelling story about a scandal. However, when reading the story through a feminist viewpoint, Hawthorne’s true intentions become more clear. The relationship between Hester and Dimmesdale develops through the story as the two characters change both mentally and physically. As Hester becomes more independent and learns how to support herself and Pearl, she becomes emotionally stronger than Dimmesdale. Women were expected to be the more emotional, and the weaker gender, and a man showing too many emotions was usually frowned upon in
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They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength” (Hawthorne, 134). The “A” was supposed to weaken Hester and make her feel shame and guilt, but Hester actually becomes stronger because of the letter. Even with the strength of woman, which was understood to be much more limited than that of men’s, she is able to overcome the supposed shame and pain of the Scarlet Letter. This defiance of societal expectations, reveals Hawthorne’s feelings that women should be given more power, and their status should be equal to that of men. He argues that women were able to handle hardships and were just as capable and well-equipped to handle them as men, if not more so. Hawthorne also shows his beliefs through the transformation of Hester’s physical appearance. She is originally described as being “lady-like” with “dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam” and a beautiful face (Hawthorne, 46). Hester is a very pretty woman, but as she became stronger she lost some of that beauty. She loses her femininity which is consistent with the expectations of the Puritan town. In Puritan life, if a woman goes…show more content…
He starts out as a powerful and influential man in society, and while he does not lose his status in society, he does lose his mental strength. Dimmesdale is eaten up by the guilt he feels and actually begins to feel physical symptoms for his emotional pain. Hawthorne uses symbolism to to represent Dimmesdale’s emotional state. “While thus suffering under bodily disease, and gnawed and tortured by some black trouble of the soul, and given over to the machinations of his deadliest enemy, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had achieved a brilliant popularity in his sacred office” (Hawthorne, 117). Dimmesdale’s physical state represents his mental one. Both Hester and Dimmesdale’s physical appearances change in congruence with their mental states. Dimmesdale becomes physically weaker, and lets Hester have power over him. She helps him accept his sin and gives him advice about his future. “But thou shalt leave it all behind thee! It shall not cumber thy steps, as thou treadest along the forest-path; neither shalt thou freight the ship with it, if thou prefer to cross the sea. Leave this wreck and ruin here where it hath happened! Meddle no more with it! Begin all anew!” (Hawthorne, 164). Typically, in a Puritan household, the man has control of the relationship and the woman was expected to follow his lead, but Hawthorne goes against this expectation. Dimmesdale’s transformation in the
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