scarlet letter

Analysis of Character and Conflict: Change?

“With nothing now to lose in the sight of mankind, and with no hope, and
seemingly no wish, of gaining anything, it could only be a genuine regard for
virtue that had brought back the poor wanderer to its paths.” (153)

With his precise diction Nathaniel Hawthorne displays an interesting conflict
based on a disagreement between the protagonist, Hester Prynne, and the strict
Puritan society around her in his novel The Scarlet Letter. This disagreement is
brought to the readers attention as Hester displays pride in a symbol, the
letter A, which society has branded her with as a mark of shame. Hester’s
isolation from the society results from her not accepting the fact that she has
sinned. It is not until Hester places the mark of shame upon her own body and
soul and accepts her sin that her conflict can be resolved. Through shame,
despair, and solitude, Hester gains the inner strength needed to overcome the
austere severity of a judgmental Puritan society.

“On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth surrounded with an elaborate
embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter ‘A.’”
(60) This “A” represented the adultery Hester once committed, as did her
child named Pearl. From the very beginning, Hawthorne indicates to his readers
that Hester feels no guilt in being an adulteress. The ravishing embroidered
fashion in which the “A” is presented to the reader shows the haughty and
defiant attitude Hester possesses. Not only does Hester embellish the letter but
she also dresses up her daughter in red cloth with gold thread. “It was the
scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life!” (103)
By doing this Hester is shaping an analogy between the mark of what should be
her guilt and her object of greatest affection. Hester possesses a very
resistant and dignified attitude. This attitude is shown from the beginning as
she holds her head high, despite the looks of scorn. “Stretching forth the
official staff in his left hand, he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young
woman, whom he thus drew forward; until, on the threshold of the prison door,
she repelled him, by an action marked with natural dignity and force of
character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free will.”( )

The general society on the other hand, being Puritan, believed that Hester
was an appalling woman and should hang for her sin. “‘This woman has brought
shame upon us all, and ought to die!’”(59) People just passing by would
judge her as if in a court room as they observe the letter upon her chest.
“…the children of the Puritans looked up from their play- or what passed for
play with those sombre little urchins- and spoke gravely to one another: ‘Behold
verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter, and, of a truth, moreover,
there is the likeness of the scarlet letter running along by her side! Come,
therefore and let us fling mud at them!” (103) Townspeople did not view Hester
as a member of their community. Rather, they viewed her as an outcast. “Every
gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came in
contact, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone
as if she inhabited another sphere, or communicated with the common nature by
other organs and senses then the rest of human kind.”(87) Her strong feeling
of pride and love is conflicted by society’s unforgiving, strict nature.
Hester is not a good Puritan woman. Accordingly, she becomes isolated from the
good Puritan society. Her house was located on the outskirts of town, bordering
the forest. Hawthorne used the forest to symbolize freedom, love and wildness,
three qualities, which often show themselves in Hester’s character.

“With nothing now to lose in the sight of mankind, and with no hope, and
seemingly no wish, of gaining anything, it could only be a genuine regard for
virtue that had brought back the poor wanderer to its paths.” (153) Throughout
the novel Hester feels guilty for not being ashamed of the letter on her chest.
This guilt acts on her by causing Hester to dress meekly, and hide her hair
under a hat. The sun rarely shines over her hair. “…her rich and luxuriant
hair had either been cut off, or was so completely hidden by a cap, that not a
shining lock of it ever once gushed into the sunshine.” (158) As the remorse
of the ignominy that she does not