I have to write an essay about human nature based on The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The essay is about analyzing the most important character strengths/virtues and flaws/weaknesses in...

I have to write an essay about human nature based on The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The essay is about analyzing the most important character strengths/virtues and flaws/weaknesses in the novel. Any help on examples of important character strengths and weakness would be appreciated. If possible, it would be great if the characteristics applied to more than one character, but anything helps.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The best part about The Scarlet Letter is that, like many of Hawthorne's works, it presents us characters that are deeply flawed. There is no innocent victim (except for Pearl, who did not ask to be conceived), nor is there a redeeming quality that will save anyone from doom.

True to its Romantic genre, the novel will present the vicissitudes and constraints that affect typical people, and it will show the way in which these individuals try to overcome the obstacles. Some will be more victorious than others, just like in real life.


Hester's character has physical and mental strengths that are compared to spiritual resilience. She is comparably more beautiful than her female counterparts, and she has the patience and dedication of a martyr. After all, she is the pariah of an entire village of Puritans. Can it get any worse for her? Not only is she their moral scapegoat, but she also has to endure consistent judgment, the scaffold, be subjected to mockery, and carry on daily with the indirect object of her sin, Pearl; a little girl who is anything but sweet. On that aspect, Hester can be considered a strong, proud, tough-as-nails woman who still refuses to do what others demand from her, such as confessing to who is the father of her daughter.

As far as her flaws, she also has plenty. However, her flaws stem from the treatment that she receives from the villagers. The state of mind that she has been put under places her, at times, in situations where she is described as "hysterical", or "wild", or "shrieking".

For example, in chapter IV, we see a side of Hester one never sees coming especially after her stoic time at the scaffold where she haughtily rebuffed her onlookers

Hester Prynne was found to be in a state of nervous excitement that demanded constant watchfulness, lest she should perpetrate violence on herself, or do some half-frenzied mischief to the poor babe. As night approached, it proving impossible to quell her insubordination by rebuke or threats of punishment, Master Brackett, the jailer, thought fit to introduce a physician.

She gets nervous due to a combination of things, the most salient being her encounter with Roger Chillingworth: the man that she presumed to be dead. Still her husband, and now one of the onlookers who knows now of her shame, Chillingworth poses as a physician and ends up immediately providing the assistance that was demanded of him.

Hester's flaws also stem from the treatment that she gets from Dimmesdale. While Hester is very strong in character, her biggest and deepest flaw is that she is too naïve, or too ignorant of life, to see that she was not of much importance to him. This is not stated per se in the novel, but it can be drawn from the series of events almost immediately. 


There is no evidence from the novel that shows Dimmesdale doing anything for Hester, with the exception of speaking on her behalf at the Governor's mansion--only after she yells at him demanding that he does so.

Speak thou for me!” cried she. [...]Thou knowest[...]that mother has but her child and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will not lose the child! Look to it!”

Every other event related to Hester and Arthur is either initiated by Hester,  enabled by Hester or proposed by Hester.

  • She is the one who insists in their leaving the village; Dimmesdale, on the other hand, seems content with the prestige of being considered a "young divine".
  • It is Hester who suggests to Dimmesdale to leave the false life of ministry aside and take her and Pearl back to England, or anywhere. Dimmesdale? He is busy trying to come up with a superb Election Day sermon. 
  • It is Hester who makes Pearl approach Dimmesdale, and who introduces them. Dimmesdale, on the other hand, never takes one single step to meet his daughter, not even while Hester lives in total isolation. He even says that Pearl is scary! At least he admits that children do not like him anyway.
  • Hester even took it upon herself to plan the trip on the vessel for their final day in the village. She spoke to the sailors and booked the spots all on her own.
  • Yet, what occurs in the end? Even after all the things that Hester does, Dimmesdale has the intestinal fortitude to tell her that they won't even meet in heaven after he dies. Talk about wanting to shun someone off for good!

These manifestations tend to present Hester as a woman who is desperate to be loved by Dimmesdale. If not, it definitely shows who is the one who does all the work to save the relationship. It is not the Reverend, that is for sure.

All that being said, Dimmesdale's flaws are seen in all of his non-actions, while Hester's flaws are seen in her excessive actions.


Chillingworth, who is the antagonist of the story, is meant to be deeply flawed to the core. Still, Chillingworth has more redeeming qualities than Dimmesdale. At least he does express remorse at having failed Hester as a husband. He does not hurt her, nor Pearl, even when he has a chance to. Moreover, his entire fortune is left to Pearl, who is not even his daughter. That is much more than Dimmesdale ever did for her.

There you can see how flawed each main character is, and the redeeming qualities that place some at a higher level of spiritual strength than others.

Read the study guide:
The Scarlet Letter

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