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What is the tone of Nathaniel Hawthorne towards Hester Prynne in chapter 3 of The...

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pnswan | eNoter

Posted October 2, 2013 at 11:33 PM via web

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What is the tone of Nathaniel Hawthorne towards Hester Prynne in chapter 3 of The Scarlet Letter?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 3, 2013 at 12:47 AM (Answer #1)

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In chapter three of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne is finishing her three hours of punishment on the scaffold. She has been the object of intense scrutiny (and no doubt some murmured insults) for the entire time, and she has been holding her baby, as well.

When she sees a familiar figure across the square, she is filled with a kind of terror; however, Hawthorne notes that Hester remains composed. He says Hester finds it 

better to stand thus, with so many betwixt him and her, than to greet him, face to face, they two alone. She fled for refuge, as it were, to the public exposure and dreaded the moment when its protection should be withdrawn from her. 

Though she is obviously afraid, Hester finds solace in the crowd gathered to condemn her.

Now something awful begins. The Reverend John Wilson calls on the younger preacher, Arthur Dimmesdale, as Hester's pastor, to pressure Hester into revealing the name of her lover and the baby's father. Adultery is a sin punishable by death, and Hester refuses to speak. 

So powerful seemed the minister's appeal, that the people could not believe but that Hester Prynne would speak out the guilty name; or else that the guilty one himself, in whatever high or lowly place he stood, would be drawn forth by an inward and inevitable necessity, and compelled to ascend the scaffold.

Hester shook her head.

No one can believe she did not succumb to Dimmesdale's appeal, but she is adamant and resolved. Hawthorne's view of Hester in this circumstance is expressed through Dimmesdale's quiet response to Hester's refusal.

"Wondrous strength and generosity of a woman's heart! She will not speak!"

Hester now becomes the subject of the older minister's fire-and-brimstone sermon on adultery and hell. As he speaks, the letter grows even more horrible in the hearts and minds of her fellow citizens. Hawthorne says that, unfortunately for her, Hester is not the type of woman who can just faint and escape her misery and suffering; so she simply endures it. 

Over the course of this chapter, Hawthorne makes it clear that he admires Hester's strength and endurance in the face of adversity. While she does feel fear, she does not show it to any of the crowd who would love nothing more to see her display some weakness. She refuses to name her literal partner in crime, and Hawthorne also admires that quality in her. 

Sources:

Lori Steinbach

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