How can chapter 17 be regarded as a feminist text?

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Chapter 17 of The Scarlet Letter can be regarded as a feminist text because of its portrayal of Hester Prynne in three ways: as an equal to Arthur Dimmesdale, as his strong savior, and as the master of her destiny.

When Hester and Dimmesdale see each other in the forest, they seem to be equals regardless of this gender. Hawthorne describes them as “inhabitants of the same sphere” of awkward tentativeness. They even stop to talk without one person in a more dominant position (e.g., the man commanding the woman’s obedience), but mutually agree to sit down and chat. When Dimmesdale asks Hester how she had been, she replies that she has found peace. Hester is not voiceless, but continues the line of questioning to ask Dimmesdale how he is. He feels tormented by his congregation’s reverence and the townspeople’s high regard for him emphasizes his hypocrisy and past sin. When speaking from his pulpit in front of them, he feels “bitterness and agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am!” Listening to his confession of torment, Hester conquers her fears, extends her hand as a friend, and declares her the role of as his partner in sin.

When she reveals Chillingworth’s true malevolence and identity as her husband, at first Dimmesdale tells her, “Woman, woman, thou art accountable for this! I cannot forgive thee!” She holds Dimmesdale, however, and won’t let him go until he forgives her. Worried that Chillingworth might reveal their secret affair, Dimmesdale panics and does not know what to do. He exclaims, “Think for me, Hester! Thou art strong. Resolve for me!”

This is the turning point where Hester takes on the role as the strong, strategic savior. With resolve, she tells Dimmesdale, who now acts like a helpless damsel in distress, that he must no longer live with Chillingworth but flee by sea to back to England, Germany, or France. Although Dimmesdale claims that he is “powerless” yet still wants to serve others, Hester is firm in that he must leave. She becomes “fervently resolved to buoy him up with her own energy.” She tries to motivate by declaring that his flight will allow him to leave behind Boston and past sins to make a fresh start. She tells him that future happiness and service to others are still attainable, that he can “Preach! Write! Act! Do anything, save to lie down and die!” Finally, she commands him “Up, and away!”

A third way that Hester is portrayed in a feminist manner is her decision to control her destiny. When Dimmesdale still insists that he is too weak to venture out into the world all by himself, Hester tells him, “Thou shalt not go alone!” She resolves to take Pearl and flee with Dimmesdale. Although Dimmesdale ultimately dies before the three can flee, Hester and Pearl eventually do leave Boston, supported by the late Chillingworth’s money.

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