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How does the society, place, and time in the setting of the story affect Hester's fate...

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amdangelica | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 22, 2011 at 6:32 PM via web

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How does the society, place, and time in the setting of the story affect Hester's fate in The Scarlet Letter?

Determinism suggests that one's faith is determined by the society (politic, economy, social, culture,defense, security, place, time), instead of God. The setting of this story affects what happens to Hester crucially, which proves the elements of determinism in this novel.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 25, 2011 at 11:43 AM (Answer #1)

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Because the Puritan community of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter labels Hester as an adultress and places her outside the circle of the other members, Hester's nature is certainly altered as witnessed by her dulled appearance. The effect of wearing the mark of a sinner causes Hester to undergo changes to her physical appearance partly because of the "studied austerity of her dress," but also because there is no longer "anything in Hester's face for Love to dwell upon," no passion, no affection.  The tenderness in Hester's appearance has been removed by the strict punishment she suffers.

Yet, as Hawthorne states in Chapter XIII, "the scarlet letter had not done its office"; for, while Hester has lost the passion which earlier drives her nature, now she has turned in her loneliness to the world of thought.  Alone and isolated, Hester now assumes "a freedom of speculation" while at the same time conforming to the external regulations of her society.  As a much more modern thinker, Hester ponders the dark question of the "whole race of womanhood" as she acknowledges that the whole of society must change before women have a fair and appropriate position.  Doubt gains some control over Hester,and she contemplates the futility of her life. 

On the other hand, the stalwart Hester retains some of "the ethereal essence wherein she has her truest life."  For, she comforts the ill, consoles those who have lost loved ones, and her letter is interpreted as meaning Able or Angel.   Thus, rather than have a sign upon her breast that she is a sinner, Hester is marked with an A that now signifies her charity. 

Although the scarlet letter has not done its office, it does have a lasting effect upon Hester Prynne, who becomes contemplative, believes that if she has atoned for her sin, the letter would fall of its own.  So, she returns from England to her humble cottage, bends, and retrieves the scarlet A in order to resume the only life she seems determined to know, but at the same time she has gained some independence, but no redemption.

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