Hester's Individualism As Present in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

Essay by Webmaster1College, UndergraduateA+, November 1996

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In Hawthorne's revered novel The Scarlet Letter, the use of Romanticism plays an important role in the development of his characters. He effectively demonstrates individualism in Hester to further our understanding of the difficulties of living in Boston, the stern, joyless world of Puritan New England. It is all gloom and doom. If the sun ever shines, one could hardly notice. The entire place seems to be shrouded in black. The people of this society were stern, and of course repressive. They always put a lid on more natural human impulses and emotions than any society before or since. But for this reason specifically, emotions began bubbling and eventually boiled over, passions a novelist such as Hawthorne could seize at red heat and use for the basis of an effective novel. Hawthorne shows Hester's sheer determination to live in this society directly through her actions and relations to others, and indirectly through the presentation of herself and her child and through her internal emotional struggle.

Hester's adultery creates a feeling of dismay and hostility within the people of Boston. They are not only shocked that she has done such a thing, but also because she won't reveal the name of the father of the child. Although the usual penalty for adultery is death, the Puritan magistrates have decided to be merciful to her declaring that Hester's punishment will be to stand for several hours on the scaffold, in full view of everyone. In this 'powerful but painful story,' (Chorley 184) Hester realizes her sin, and acknowledges that she must pay the price for her crimes. She might, Hawthorne tells us, have left the narrow-minded colony to start life all over again in a place where no one knew her story. The sea leads back to England, or for a...