How does the character Hester Prynne triumph over evil?The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hester Prynne's triumph over evil comes not in the wearing of the scarlet letter that fails to do "its office," but in her prevailing over the stigma of the letter and the evil adversary Roger Chillingworth, who violates the secrets of the human heart as he pursues his revenge--"he will be mine"--against Hester's lover, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale.

Hester wears her scarlet letter under her own terms as she tends the ailing and the dying, becoming an angel of mercy to the community.  Her many acts of altruism and her humble acceptance of her ostracism lead people to perceive the significance of the letter A as that of "Angel."  Thus, she triumphs over the evil connotation of adulterer.

But, above and beyond the stigma of the scarlet letter, Hester triumphs over evil in the form of Roger Chillingworth.  Even the incarnation of Hester and Dimmesdale's sin of passion, little Pearl, recognizes the evil in Chillingworth, calling him the "Black Man," a term meaning the Satanic man who leads the black mass in the forest primeval.  Further, Chillingworth himself admits to having become "a fiend."  In Chapter XIV, "Hester and the Physician," Hester begs her husband to forgive Dimmesdale and "leave his further retribution to the Power that claims it," but Chillingworth replies that he has no power to pardon."  "Let the black flower blossom as it may!" 

Knowing that Chillingworth will not relinquish his hold over the heart of Dimmesdale, Hester sets out to meet the minister in the forest and reveal her husband's identity to him. Distraught and angered with Hester when he learns, Dimmesdale is, nevertheless, instilled with Hester's courage and returns from the forest as "another man...a wiser one; with a knowledge of hidden mysteries which the simplicity of the former never could have reached." And, when Chillingworth

knew then that in the minster's regard he was no longer a trusted friend, but his bitterest enemy.

Thus, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, imbued with the truth and courage by Hester, delivers his revised sermon on the New England Holiday on the scaffold with Hester and their child Pearl beside him.  Aghast at this exhibition, Roger Chillingworth rushes forward, whispering to the minister,

"Madman, hold!  What is your purpose?....Wave back that woman!  cast off this child. All shall be well!  Do not blacken your fame, and perish in dishour!  I can yet save you!  Would you bring infamy on your sacared profession?"

But, Dimmesdale answers,

"Thy power is not what it was!  With God's help, I shall escape thee now!"

Dimmesdale, then, beckons Hester and says,

"This wretched and wronged old man is opposing [her strength] which God hath granted me!  This wretched and wronged old man is opposing it with all his might...and the fiend's!...By bringing me hither, to die this death of triumphant ignominy before the people!   Had either of these agonies been wanting, I had been lost for ever!....

With his public confession on the scaffold, Dimmesdale escapes the evil, fiendish Chillingworth who cries out repeatedly, "Thou hast escaped me!"  The minister's triumph over the evil Chillingworth is Hester's triumph, also, for now Pearl is made human by her kiss on her father's lips and towards her mother "Pearl's errand as a messenger of anguish was fulfilled."

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The Scarlet Letter

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