Essay, Research Paper
The Effects of Sin on Hester Prynne
Nathaniel Hawthorne believed his task was to analyze the effects of sin, whether thought or committed, on the human heart and mind. Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, deals with many themes, the most powerful being sin. In this novel, Hester Prynne becomes a highly respected person in a Puritan society by overcoming a constant reminder of her sin, a Scarlet letter A which she wears on her chest at all times. This object on “her bosom”; however, does the exact opposite of the initial purpose. Eventually, Hester reverses all the odds that are against here due to her courage, pride and effort. Hester went beyond the letter of the law and did everything asked of her in order to prove that she is “able.”
She comes from an impoverished but genteel English family, having lived in a “decayed house of gray stone, with a poverty stricken aspect, but retaining a half-obliterated sheild of arms over the portal, in token of antique gentility.” But even without that specific indication of her high birth, the reader would know that Hester is a lady, from her bearing and pride. Especially in Chapter two, when she bravely faces the humiliation of the scaffold: “And never had Hester Prynne appeared more lady-like, in the antique interpretation of the term, than as she issued from the prison,”
Hester’s daughter, Pearl, is “a blessing and is a reminder of her sin.”
As if the scarlet A were not enough punishment there “was a brat of that hellish breed” which would remind Hester of what had happened in the past. The “brat” could have been given away to Governor Bellingham yet Hester proclaimed that Pearl “is my happiness!…Ye shall not take her! I will die first!” Not a person in Boston, nor Hester herself thought highly of the little child and yet Hester still refused to let Pearl go. Hester carried the child around only because it was a direct reflection of her sin and to cast away her sin as freely as that to give it away would be unjust and unfair to Hester and Pearl. From now on Hester would continually and proudly be near Pearl. Hester would go against the grain in everything she did. Very rarely did she ever give up hope; never did she complete a job poorly. In the city of Boston “many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength.” By now the people of Boston believe in Hester and accept her because Hester is an arduous, productive worker in the puritan society. The townspeople were reconsidering whether Hester was still worthy of wearing the scarlet letter by the time Hester was about to leave with Dimmesdale. The people of the town realized what an exquisite job Hester had done wearing the A and what once was evil inside of Hester turned into righteousness outside of her.
Although Hester eventually wins acceptance by the town’s people because of her community service, it is not until after the death of her secret lover, Reverend Dimmsdale, and the marriage of her daughter that she is able to return to the town. There she becomes a revered figure in the community, one to whom “people brought all their sorrows and perplexities, and besought her counsel.”
Hester learns from her sin, and she grows strong as a result of accepting her punishment. “The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not treat. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers, stern and wild ones, and they had made her strong.” At the end of the novel Hester emerges from her experiences and is revealed to be a woman capable of helping others and being respected by them. She has the happiness that comes of being at peace with oneself, one’s fellow men, and with one’s God.