It has been often said that what we value can be determined by sacrifice. How does this statement apply to a character from The Scarlet Letter? How does this sacrifice illuminate the character's...

It has been often said that what we value can be determined by sacrifice. How does this statement apply to a character from The Scarlet Letter? How does this sacrifice illuminate the character's values?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Undoubtedly it is the novel's heroine, Hester Prynne, who has sacrificed deliberately and also forfeited something in a way that highlights her values. 

We could always go the easy route and criticize Hester for her flaws. We could criticize her involvement with a "man of the cloth" (a religious man). We could chastise her for ending up carrying his child. She could be thought of as a bad wife for not "suffering enough" the supposed death of her husband. 

Yet, we should also remember that Hester was very young when she was "given" to Roger Prynne (Chillingworth), and that she admits openly that she has never loved him. 

Whether Hester lost herself once she set foot on the settlement to the charms of Dimmesdale, or whether the latter used her vulnerability and status as a possible widow for his own wants, is something that is up for speculation. What Hester does as a result of her acts denotes the following enacted values.

  • a) She is someone willing to protect those whom she does love- she sacrificed her reputation by not disclosing Dimmesdale's. She is loyal and she is chivalrous
  • b) She is courageous enough to move forward in life despite of setbacks. 
  • c) She has the gumption of acting with dignity in the face of indignity
  • d) She does not think of anyone as better as or worse than anyone else, which is more than can be said about the rest of the villagers. She is humble and her pride is not a symbol of haughtiness but a sign of defiance in the face of the hypocritical society that points at her. 

This summarizes Hester as a person: 

..she was supported by an unnatural tension of the nerves, and by all the combative energy of her character, which enabled her to convert the scene into a kind of lurid triumph.

and

...she might call up the vital strength that would have sufficed for many quiet years..

What this shows is that Hester possesses the qualities of a silent warrior, but she also suffers. The sacrifices that she endures to protect her daughter and the reputation of a man who, literally, wronged her say that the values pointed before are very real to her, and this is why she abides by them at all times. 

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