Hester in The Scarlet Letter

Essay by Anonymous UserCollege, UndergraduateA, January 1996

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Throughout Nathaniel Hawthorne's book The Scarlet Letter, Hester's attitudes toward her adultery are ambivalent. This ambivalence is shown by breaking the book into three different parts. In each part her attitudes change significantly.

Hester starts by seeing her act as a sin that she is sorry for committing. She changes and no longer feels sorry for the sin. Finally, Hester sees the act as not sinful, but she regrets committing it.

In the first part, covering the first six chapters, Hester thinks of her action as a sin. In chapter four she tells her husband that it was her fault for committing adultery when she says, 'I have greatly wronged thee' (79). In chapter six Hawthorne writes that Hester knows 'her deed had been evil' (92). This evil deed, in Hester's eyes, causes Pearl to act sinful, so Hester feels overwhelming guilt. At this point Hester feels that her actions were evil and were her fault, therefore she is sorry for committing adultery.

In chapter five Hester's attitudes are the same but Hawthorne shows that these attitudes are not stable and are susceptible to change. Hester moves to a cottage on the outskirts of Boston, but because her sentence does not restrict her to the limits of the Puritan settlement, Hester could return to Europe to start over. She decides to stay because she makes herself believe that the town 'has been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment' (84). This belief gives the impression that she views her action as a sin and feels a need to further punish herself. But this belief only covers her actual feelings. To the contrary, as Hawthorne describes, her real reason for staying is that 'There dwelt, there trod the feet of one with...