A feminist can be defined as any person who supports the rights of women or empowers women through speech, actions, or ideas. This idea of empowerment means that a woman has the ability and strength to manage her life on her own, and does not require assistance from other people. The Scarlet Letter is in part a feminist novel in that it illustrates the strength that Hester Prynne holds to survive on her own throughout her ignominy. Nathaniel Hawthorne portrays Hester as a rather strong woman who can still raise her daughter and continue on with her life despite constant mockery and humiliation.
Given that female empowerment was unusual during this period of history, Hester’s character became a significant symbol of the strength within women and became contrary to a rather patriarchal society. She possesses the capability to care for herself and Pearl without the assistance of any others. Hester Prynne is a strong female character in Hawthorne’s novel because of her independence and boldness. These character traits are seen through Hester’s internal response to her initial public humiliation, her refusal to remove the scarlet letter, and the limited presence of Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale in the lives of Hester and Pearl.
Hawthorne created Hester’s character to empower a female character, and show how she can function well even without the support of others. The reader can first see representation of Hester’s strength and courage when she is brought forth to the scaffold to face public humiliation. Hawthorne describes how Hester refuses to submit to the laughter and mockery of the townspeople when he writes, “Had a roar of laughter burst from the multitude,– each man, each woman, each little shrill-voiced child, contributing their individual parts,–Hester Prynne might have repaid them all with a bitter and disdainful smile.
But, under the leaden infliction which it was her doom to endure, she felt, at moments, as if she must needs shriek out with the full power of her lungs, and cast herself from the scaffold down upon the ground, or else go mad at once” (54). This portrayal of Hester’s thoughts during her time on the scaffold illustrates her more rebellious, prideful state of mind that would lead her to taunt those who mock her. By smiling back at those who laugh at her, Hester proves that their cruel remarks cannot harm her.
She shows the townspeople that her strength cannot be diminished by their mockery. Hester also becomes a strong female character in the novel during her discourse with Reverend Dimmesdale, in which the town offers to remove her scarlet letter if she reveals the name of her lover. Hester responds to this offer by saying, “Never!… It is too deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And would that I might endure his agony as well as mine! ” (64). Hester not only refuses to allow the town to remove the scarlet letter from her bosom, but also refuses to speak the name of her lover.
She tells the townspeople that she will endure the agony of her lover rather than reveal his identity so that he may stand by her side. It becomes quite apparent that Hester has a strong mind, and possesses the strength to endure the punishment of her crime without allowing her lover to suffer with her. Although Hester only refuses to remove the scarlet letter to protect her lover in this situation, much of her strength is also seen throughout the novel as she refuses to allow others remove the letter until she deems herself worthy of it.
Hester becomes a symbol of feminism throughout the novel, which is noticeable in her refusal to allow others to deem her worthy to remove her scarlet letter. The scarlet letter brings with it the punishing mockery and humiliation from her fellow Puritans, so continuing to bear this mark requires a great amount of strength. Hawthorne wrote Hester’s character to seem beautiful yet powerful in that she believes her own sinful ways cannot be redeemed or reconciled without proper punishment.
Until Hester believes that she has renounced her sinful ways and learned from her mistakes, she will not allow herself or anyone in the town to remove the letter. During her discourse with Roger Chillingworth regarding the removal of the scarlet letter, Hester responds, “It lies not in the pleasure of the magistrates to take off this badge… Were I worthy to be quit of it, it would fall away of its own nature, or be transformed into something that should speak a different purport” (153). Hester believes that it is not in her own power or the power of the town to remove the scarlet letter from her bosom.
Although the letter can be physically removed, it cannot be removed by God until Hester becomes worthy of its removal. Hester also discusses the removal of the scarlet letter when she faces public humiliation for her crimes near the beginning of her story. Near the end of the novel, when Hester returns from Europe to Boston without Pearl, Hester still continues to wear the letter. Hawthorne describes this event when he writes, “But her hesitation was only for an instant, though long enough to display a scarlet letter on her breast.
And Hester Prynne had returned, and taken up her long-forsaken shame” (233) Although Hester has already completed her punishment of bearing the shame of the scarlet letter, she still continues to wear the letter after returning. This not only characterizes Hester as a determined woman, but also shows how the scarlet letter has become a part of her daily life. Only a strong-willed character could face the humiliation and persecution in which Hester is forced to endure on a daily basis. Hawthorne constructs her personality to show that she is capable of withstanding persecution through her refusal to remove the scarlet letter.
He also portrays her as a strong feminist character by illustrating the fact that Dimmesdale’s presence in the lives of Hester and Pearl is strictly limited. Hawthorne makes Hester a strong feminist character by proving that she can manage her life on her own, without the assistance of Dimmesdale or another man. During this time period in history, women were believed to be strongly dependent on their husbands and fathers. Hester is able to raise Pearl completely on her own, indicating that she possesses a very powerful mental strength.
Pearl does not recognize Dimmesdale as anyone of significance until her forest walk with her mother, in which Hester looks to mend the three into a family. Pearl’s reactions to the mention of Dimmesdale indicate that he is not present in their lives, and does not seek to help Hester through her suffering. Pearl first discovers that Dimmesdale does not desire to be seen with her when they stand together on the scaffold during the night.
Pearl asks the minister, “Will thou stand here with mother and me, to-morrow noontide? (139), to which Dimmesdale responds by saying, “Nay; not so, my little Pearl” (139). Dimmesdale’s refusal to stand in public with Hester and Pearl indicates his desire to avoid public humiliation and recognition as a sinner. Hawthorne uses this to make the minister appear afraid of the public, and unpresent in the lives of the two outcasts. During the procession on the New England holiday, Pearl inquires whether the minister would make any contact with her or her mother in public.
She asks her mother, “Else I would have run to him, and bid him iss me now, before all the people; even as he did yonder among the dark old trees. What would the minister have said, mother? Would he have clapped his hand over his heart, and scowled on me, and bid me be gone? ” (215). Pearl’s distrust in the minister is very clear through her remarks about his character. She realizes that he does not want to be seen with either her or Hester, which creates an intense amount of hatred for the minister in her mind. Pearl’s perception of Dimmesdale indicates that he has only a small presence in their lives, and is not very significant to Pearl.
Hester was forced to raise Pearl in her own isolated home, which illustrates great strength both physically and mentally. Hester’s character is unique in that she can remain mostly stable and continue her life, despite the reality of her public ignominy. She refuses to reveal the identity of her lover even though this revelation would remove the scarlet letter and publicly renounce her crime. Hester also leads a quite successful life with her daughter without the assistance of Dimmesdale. Women were believed to be inferior to men throughout history, and this evident through many literary works of this time.
Hester’s character was specifically designed by Hawthorne to be capable of surviving the suffering which her crime brings. He empowers her character, and describes how her strength helps her through public mockery and humiliation. Hester is a feminist character because she proves that women possess the mental and physical strength to live on their own. She indicates that women do not require a male figure in their lives to raise a child and continue through life as normal. Hester is capable of continuing her life despite all of the mental trauma she experiences, and empowers the female image through her accomplishments.