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


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 woman of Hester\'s strength, the track leads onward into the wilderness. But Hester turns her back on these escape routes. She stays in the settlement, shackled, as if by an iron chain of guilt, to the scene of her crime and punishment. As Hester stands on the scaffold, thinking of her husband, he appears before her startled eyes at the edge of the crowd. And his first gesture is indicative of the man. Whatever shock or dismay he may feel at seeing his wife on the scaffold he immediately supresses his emotions and makes his face the image of calm. The glance he bends on Hester is keen and penetrative. Here is someone used to observing life rather than participating in it. His is a "furrowed visage" (43). Chillingworth looks like a man who has cultivated his mind at the "expense of another faculties - a perilous enterprise, in Hawthorne\'s view" (Loring 187). Where his overbearing intellect will take him, Hawthorne wants us to think that he could be the catalyst for great conflicts later in the novel. Chillingworth\'s finger raised to his lips, commanding Hester\'s silence, begins a pattern of secrecy that is the mainspring of the novel\'s plot; a secrecy that Hester must maintain in order to protect both her and her husband from the harshness of the Puritans. Hawthorne\'s emphasis on the ability of Chillingworth to analyze the human mind and reasoning foreshadows his treatment of Dimmesdale later in the novel.
Hawthorne shows that while Hester realizes she must pay for her sins, her actions demonstrate a hidden defiance against the people of Boston and their laws that she finds to be trivial. Hester thinks of Pearl as a great sorrow reminding her of her adultery, and a great joy in having a child. Although the mother is not permitted to clothe herself in bright colors, she finds a sense of relief in dressing her child in gleaming colors, imaginatively arranged. Hester dresses her child in her own "wild, desperate, defiant mood, that flightiness of her temper" (66). As Hester\'s new garments represent her restraint in dealing with the world around her, Hawthorne uses Pearl\'s attire as a vehicle by which Hester deals with her new life after being imprisoned. Since Hester is unable to dress in colors that please her, she uses her child as an indirect way to do so. When Hester exits the prison, she makes a striking contrast