Hester Prynne In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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The clearest way not to condemn a character is to empower them. In The Scarlet Letter, author Nathaniel Hawthorne accounts the tale of Hester Prynne, a woman in Puritan Boston accused of adultery and forced to wear a red embroidered “A” on her chest. For the past two centuries, Hester Prynne has fascinated literary critics and readers, such as Nina Baym and Kathryn Harrison, startled by her unorthodox characterization in such a conservative and religious environment. Although Hawthorne is harsh on Prynne, he does not condemn her; rather, he gives her strength in her narrative. Hawthorne gives evidence to this strength through how the meaning of Prynne’s scarlet letter changes, and how the indictment affects Prynne as well as members of her community. When Hawthorne first introduces the embroidered letter “A” in the Custom House, he clearly establishes its power; the letter gives off a “burning heat, and as if the letter were not of red cloth, but red-hot iron” (Hawthorne) The…show more content…
She contributes to her community as a seamstress and moral guide, and changes her town’s perception of her. Prynne turns the letter into a “symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her…that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its signification.” After many years of redefining her letter with “many good meanings” (Baym) through her actions, she has “transfigured her punishment” (Harrison) to the point that townspeople assume that that the letter stands for able, angel, admirable. The original meaning “fixed” and “imposed” of the letter by the original Puritans is left “conspicuously missing,” (Baym) outweighed by the positive influence Prynne has had in her community. Essentially, she overcomes the social stigma that comes with her scarlet letter by accepting it and refashioning it, defeating the punishment intended for her by her
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