Character Analysis of Hester Prynne

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorHigh School, 11th grade February 2008

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Committing adultery in today's society is frowned upon, but otherwise basically ignored. Many believe the morals of mankind have decreased over the ages, though it's an argument whether or not it was for better or worse. For a young woman living in a Puritan society freshly rooted in a new world, morals were as strict as imaginable. Committing adultery was something one would not even think about doing. But it was done. In a drama that could easily be turned into an episode of DAYS OF OUR LIVES, Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" dives into the life of Hester Prynne. Through twisted coincidences, the reader watches as one of the most confusing, heart wrenching, and life-changing events takes over Hester's life and changes her permanently; though it can be argued whether or not for the best.

Throughout the sequence of the story, the actions of Hester Prynne, Roger Chillingworth, and Arthur Dimmesdale are brought to life.

Through these actions, Pearl is brought to life as well. A child born out of wedlock, Pearl herself acts as a scarlet letter, forever branding her own mother. Hester takes on the full brute responsibility of raising the child and facing her menacing peers while upholding the secrecy of the father's identity as closely as possible.

Many different sides of Hester are shown throughout the story, beginning with her brave but guilty defiance against those that punish her so cruelly. Portrayed as a scandalous woman with no moral values, Hester holds her own as well as possible through repeated bashings from the townspeople. Her loyalty to Dimmesdale alone shows how strong of a woman she is, knowing that he would be ruined if ever it were found out. Threatened and expelled by her former husband Chillingworth, Hester is left to fend for herself completely, while sworn to secrecy on Chillingworth's behalf as well.

As the years pass, Hester carries the many burdens placed upon her sufficiently, while at the same time always showing a considerate side to those in need of assistance. Shunned by the very people she helps, she soothes away the hatred by simply caring. Observation becomes her main sensory tool, and Hester gains the power to see the sins of others. In this way, she can understand that she is not alone, and strives to make others know the same. Her relentless actions reap a reward as time passes, as the judgmental townsfolk accept her once again. Referring to her as "our Hester," the scarlet letter imprinted upon her chest begins to acquire a different meaning: Able.

Hester remains secluded, however, and puts forth most of her efforts towards raising Pearl. Pearl means the world to Hester, always proving to be some challenge in Hester's eyes. She remains dedicated, always trying to do what is best, although she is always lonely, always isolated, and always burdened with her sins. Pearl represents so much good in Hester's eyes, although she often cannot understand her child. Love is all that Hester can give. To have gone through so much grief, bitterness, resentment, and loathing, and to still be able to love, shows just how pure of a person Hester Prynne becomes.

For seven years of patience, Hester is rewarded with a bright light at the end of a long tunnel; she reconnects with her love, Arthur Dimmesdale, and secretly plans to leave Boston for good. Sacrificing her social life for so long, and carrying the burden of sin for an unaccountable amount of time, patience redeems itself, and Hester feels as if she has been set free from her sentencing. Suddenly her life seems filled with hope. Hope of a new life. A new beginning. A father for her child. Acceptance among new friends and peers. Happiness. Purgatory is over, and Hester has cleansed herself of her sins; she is ready to start over. No longer caring what is right or wrong, Hester decides to follow her heart to happiness. Dimmesdale, however, is the fall to a great plan; weak already from guilt, he does not possess enough will or strength to join Hester. Fast as lightning, the light at the end of the tunnel is snuffed out.