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English Composition I
October 26, 1995 Hawthorne’s Heroine
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter , had a controversial plot when it was published in 1850. The same controversy exists today even though there is a decline in moral behavior. The main character, Hester Prynne, and her scarlet “A” have been a symbol of adultery for over one hundred years. It is hard to determine whether Hester is to be considered a predator or the prey throughout this novel. Individual upbringing and teachings could create a predetermined opinion of Hester and the sin of adultery.
Hester’s beauty was breath-taking. Her dark hair and brown eyes were alluring. An attractive figure drew much attention from both male and female members of the community. Jealousy caused many women to reject her friendship. Men secretively desired her although they may have pretended otherwise. Many prejudged Hester as being somewhat less than a symbol of virtue because of her outward appearance. She was never given the opportunity to develop a deep and personal friendship with anyone other than the priest. Her dependance on him drew her closer to him than she realized. Her tenderness and passion was pushed deeper within as years passed.
From the very beginning she became a victim when her parents arranged her marriage to the wealthy yet notorious Roger Chillingsworth. He was a man who needed to collect things and Hester became another possession. His great wealth enabled him to lead many different lives and become whomever or whatever he chose. However, his greed and selfishness drove him to abandon Hester and destroy any love she might have had for him. Upon his return, during the platform scene, she pretended not to know him. At that moment her attraction to him still existed. The author portrayed her as being smug and almost flaunting her sin, while at the same time she noticed how handsome her husband seemed. The promiscuity of Hester’s character not only instigated her affair but had also drawn her towards Roger Chillingsworth to begin with. One could perceive this as a predaceous quality.
For seven long years, Hester and her bastard child Pearl suffered great anguish. Their existence in this Puritan setting was almost intolerable. Yet they went about their lives and took each bit of happiness, though few, and made the most of it. It is the tendency of many to thrive on the failing and downfall of others; that is what transpired during this period. Possibly, her actions served as a catalyst for exploitation, but how she was perceived by her fellow man was not a significant factor in her decision not to expose her lover. Cruelty can wear many disguises; ironically these Christian people were unforgiving and heartless. Her bitterness was attributed partly to the loneliness and isolation she suffered. Hester fell prey to gossip and became another victim of a societal judgment.
The true villain in all of this was the priest, Arthur Dimmesdale. He allowed a woman , whom he supposedly loved, to be publicly ridiculed and humiliated without coming forward and confessing his involvement. Hester always had hope that her love would not be unrequited. Her character was of strong nature and her love for the priest was excessive. One might consider her faith in a man as unworthy as Arthur Dimmesdale to be a major flaw in her character, but it also proves that passion can cast a shadow of sin on each of our souls. Love, at times, can blind one to the blemishes within another being. However, it would appear that Hawthorne’s heroine entered the relationship with Arthur Dimmesdale with eyes opened wide. Once again, Hester stood alone to face the consequences of her infidelity and his deceit.
Although throughout the plot Hester dreamed of running away from it all and starting a new life with her lover and child, her plans went awry. Her future with the priest was never to be. But it proved to be enough for her that Arthur Dimmesdale finally faced the townspeople who had placed him so high on his pedestal, and confessed his sin. Her unending pursuit of him, in spite of his vow of chastity and God’s law, eventually led to his untimely demise. Hester’s actions created a misinterpreted image of her. An obsessive love robbed her daughter of the freedom of childhood and created the loss of an innocence that comes only with youth. Therefore, the answer to the previous question of whether Hester was the predator or the prey is answered; she showed characteristics of both. Her actions proved time and again that she fed off the stigma accompanying the scarlet letter but fell victim to its effect.
One’s perception of Hester’s personality and deeds might have changed throughout the novel. Many might feel that under no circumstance should one disobey or disregard the commandments of our Lord. That might prove to many that Hester was an enemy of fidelity and commitment and displayed immoral behavior. However, many could view her crime of passion as an incident caused from weakness of moral character, but find that each of us should show compassion and forgiveness . Quite possibly her character needed an acceptance from her peers that could not be given due to the elements of that era. In this day and age, she would be considered a victim of circumstance but dismissed as being a reputable character. A tolerance of sin is a trait of today’s society and again the reader must judge her either as predator or prey. Adultery is and always will be a debatable subject. Decline in moral ethics of a society has proven to be the leading cause of its self-destruction. Throughout time, it is evident that each great empire was more tolerant of sinful acts as it progressed. Progression can sometimes lead to regression just as it occurred in this epic tale.