Within the past year, the treatment and perceptions of women have been challenged due to the various marches and movements. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s romance, The Scarlet Letter, presents how women were viewed in a Puritan society, falling into a rigid dichotomy of either being the “saint” or “sinner.” This is otherwise known as the “Madonna/Whore complex,” which is explored through the life of the novel’s protagonist, Hyster Prynne. Her struggles and experiences through this dichotomy ultimately affect her both physically and emotionally as it represses her femininity. Firstly, what does the Madonna/Whore complex even mean? According to Gottschall, it is defined as how “men and/or society divide women into two binary types: virgins and whores. …show more content…
She cannot be defined by just one label, but both. She is a mother to Pearl, who is a child born from adultery. She is a caregiver, seamstress, a lover, and a counselor, but the Puritanical society Hester lives in constantly reminds her that she is just a whore. By subscribing to this label, Hester loses her identity in a way. The effect of being an outsider due to the letter causes her to become a shell of her former self. Her beauty is lost as “her rich and luxuriant hair had either been cut off, or was so completely hidden by a cap, that not a shining lock of it ever once gushed into the sunshine” (Hawthorne 515). Hester has stopped being a woman, which the narrator even confirms. She is able to reclaim her womanhood briefly when she takes off her cap and letter in an intimate moment with Arthur Dimmesdale. She is finally allowed to be beautiful since “the burden of shame and anguish [depart] from her spirit” (Hawthorne 536). However, when she has to put her hair back in the cap and fasten on the letter “her beauty, the warmth and richness of her womanhood, [depart], like fading sunshine; and a gray shadow seemed to fall across her” (Hawthorne 541). This is just another example of how women and their bodies are policed under this dichotomy. Yet men are free from the being either the Madonna or the whore because that separation is exclusive to women. Throughout the story, Hester’s torment is contrasted with the man whom Hester had an affair with, Arthur Dimmesdale. Despite Arthur revealing his part in their adultery, the townspeople do not condemn him. In the conclusion, the narrator reveals how the spectators refused to believe that Arthur’s “dying words, acknowledged, nor even remotely implied, any, the slightest connection on his part, with the guilt for which Hester Prynne had so lone worn the scarlet letter” (Hawthorne 566). Even the highly respectable witnesses
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Throughout the Scarlet Letter, Hester learned to handle her inner strength by accepting the “ SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom” (Hawthorne 46) and letting it empower her instead of weaken her. This showed that she was attempting to redeem herself by accepting her sin before God. Hester also caused the town to recognize that she was changing the meaning of the “A” from adultery to “Able...so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength”(Hawthorne 127). This showed that despite being an outcast of the Puritan society, she was redeeming herself by using her inner strength and physical capability even in the face of the shame that came from committing adultery. Hawthorne’s message was that it is possible to persevere in a resentful and dark world if people rely on their inner strength.
A memorable scene is Hester’s public ridicule on the scaffold shortly after her sin is revealed. The crowd mocks her, shouting things such as, “They should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead” (49). This scorn is a mirror of the guilt that has manifested within Hester, causing her to “Clasp the infant closely to her bosom: not so much by impulse...as that she may conceal a certain token” (50). The guilt Hester experiences is so great that she uses Pearl in an attempt to conceal her sin. The ridicule Hester endures socially reflects the self-reproach she feels within.
Hester dislikes the fact that the “scarlet letter” may be perceived as a sign of weakness, and instead learns to be empowered by the “A”. Ultimately, Hester actively made a positive impact on the community and proceeds to raise pearl, her child, without any assistance from Roger or Arthur Dimmesdale. Hester exemplifies her independence through her ability to maintain financial stability while raising her daughter and working. Hester eventually morphs the public's view of the scarlet letter into something positive. The narrator says, “many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification.
Even though the Puritans may have designated the letter as a representation of sin, Hester’s renewed sense of pride does not want society to define the A for her. Rather Hester wants to define it herself and by doing so she develops responsibility and power over her own actions. Because Hester has the power to change who she is, she also has the power to change what the Scarlet Letter represents. By letting the letter be “embroidered with gold thread” readers are able to see how for Hester sin is not something to be fearful of; furthermore, it allows one to see how Hester has developed into an independent individual who accepts who she is and the situation she is presented with. Hester’s lover unfortunately
Throughout the passage from The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses Hester’s baby, Pearl, to illuminate the theme of beauty in a dark place. Once released from prison, Hester, an adulterer, becomes a public spectacle. Through this hard time, Hester has her daughter Pearl to soothe her and to bring her strength and hope for a better future. By using vivid imagery and juxtaposition, Hawthorne depicts Pearl as Hester’s happiness, light, and beauty during a sad and lonely time. While in Prison, Hester is all alone and depressed.
Hester proves that she has a higher understanding for people and life, also a sense of honor based on her own principles not society’s. This perfectly fits the mold for a romantic hero. Towards the end of the novel, we learn that Pearl became a great women and Hester could have lived a great life with her wealthy daughter, yet she chose to return to Boston and live out her punishment. Now the book describes Hester’s final resting place, “It bore a device, a herald's wording of which might serve for a motto and brief description of our now concluded legend; so somber is it, and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow:—"On a field, sable, the letter A, gules”(Hawthorne 259).
WHile Hester suffered from ridicule and shame from her neighbors, she presents feminist spirit in her conscious. Hester develops a strong spirit and mind. Wang notes that the feminism is carefully placed throughout the story. He analyzes Hester's refusal and determination when she is asked who the father of her baby is. This showed her individualism and her determination to stand alone without a man by her side.
This shows how ungrateful and judgemental her society is. All things considered, through these many skills Hester accomplishes, the meaning of the scarlet letter, embroidered on her chest, changes in meaning from ‘adulterer’ to ‘able.’ This eventually leads to women looking up to her and going to her for advice. As a result, “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” (Hawthorne 257). Hester’s experiences living with society, as they looked down upon her, eventually changes the way society looks at people and the choices they make.
She receives three punishments from the townspeople, who claim they will free her from her sin. The community orders Hester to go to jail, wear a scarlet letter on her chest, and stand on the town scaffold for hours. Hester wears her scarlet letter proudly on her chest, and endures much suffering because of her public ridicule. Hester is “kept by no restrictive clause of her condemnation within the limits of the Puritan settlement” after she was released from prison, but she chooses to stay (Hawthorne 71). Later, Hester’s child, Pearl, symbolizes the Puritan view of Hester.
The book “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a complex novel that has underlying themes of sin and the responsibility for sin. The novel takes place in a Puritanical society, but two people, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, fornicate with each other, even though Hester is married to someone else. Only Hester is punished, so Dimmesdale keeps his guilt inside, not revealing it to anyone. Hester’s husband, Chillingworth, then proceeds to ruin Hester’s partner in crime, corrupting his soul and being the ultimate cause for his death. Hester, on the other hand, leads a relatively happy life after she had repented for her sin.
She is a beautiful, young woman who has sinned, but is forgiven. Hawthorne portrays Hester as "divine maternity" and she can do no wrong. Not only Hester, but also the physical scarlet letter, a sign of shame, is shown as a beautiful, gold and colorful piece which
In the “Scarlet Letter,” Nathaniel Hawthorne portrays hypocrisy of the Puritan society, where the protagonist Hester Prynne face many consequences of her actions and the how she tries to redeem herself to the society. During the seventeenth puritans believe that it is their mission to punish the ones who do not follow God’s word and it is their job to stop those from sinning. Therefore, the hypercritical puritan society punishes Hester harshly for committing adultery, but in Hester’s mind, she believes that what she did was not a sin but acts of love for her man. Eventually, she redeems herself by turning her crime into an advantage to help those in need, yet the Puritan society still view her as a “naughty bagger.” (Hawthorne 78)
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne explores recurring themes of suffering surrounding the main characters, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. Hester and Dimmesdale both commit adultery with each other, and, as a result of this, both experience gruesome and occasionally unbearable forms of suffering. Though they undergo different forms of pain, both of their experiences are highly reliant on how the Puritan society treats them. Hester 's pain stems from the shame and estrangement she receives from the community, while Dimmesdale’s is due to the reverence with which the community regards him. Although, in spite of the fact that both Hester and Dimmesdale receive harsh penalty for their sin, by the end of the book, Hawthorne shows how their suffering is, in fact, the key to their salvation.