The female characters in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter defy Puritanical laws.Comment?plz answer in detail

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nathaniel Hawthorne's, The Scarlet Letter, exposes the dilemma of a theology that would deny the very humanness of mankind. For, in its absolute forbiddings of passion and its retribution against sin, there is  denial of the emotion that exists in the human heart.  Little Pearl, who is the result of the erotic love of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, epitomizes this human passion; yet, she cannot become fully human until the sin of Dimmesdale and Hester is publicly acknowledged and she kisses her father with passion and love.

With this Puritancal denial to emotional expression, all in the community are repressed, but it is the women, intrinsically more emotional, who suffer the more.  Therefore, they seek expressive outlets surreptitiously through secret love affairs or through witchcraft where theirsurpressed emotions can be released.  Mistress Hibbins goes to the black mass in the forest primeval, the site of human sympathy for sin and the darkness of the heart where she feels excitement and emotional release. 

It is further evidence of this need of expression for human feeling that the townspeople, instead of totally rejecting Hester and isolating her from the community, invite her into their homes to attend the sick and the dying, a time of high emotion in their dwellings.

Such helpfulness was found in her--so much power to do, and power to sympathise--that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original significance. [Ch. 13]

Further, Hawthorne as narrator comments,

She who has once been woman, and ceased to be so, might at any moment become a woman again, if there were only the magic touch to effect the transformation.

This "touch" is perceived as Hester casts aside her letter of scorn and lets down her hair when she meets Dimmesdale in the forest.  Again, her hair returns to its luxurious beauty and her feminity is apparent as witness to the unnaturalness of her wearing the letter that denies her feminine passion--"the scarlet letter has not done its office."

In fact, in Chapter XIII, Hester Prynne ponders the "the hopeless task" of emotional independence for women who must abandon the priorities of the heart if they are to ever achieve any recognition as individuals.  And, it is the harshness of Puritanism ironically which has prompted Hester's thoughts on this condition. 


ashere101 | Student

Hester Prynne is the main character. she is made to wear a scarlet letter for committing adultery on Chillingworth with Dimmesdale.

Pearl is the child of Hester and Dimmesdale which is the outcome of the adultery they caused.

Mistress Hibbins is a alleged witch

Read the study guide:
The Scarlet Letter

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