How has Hester changed physically? Describe how her change is both positive and negative.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is notable that with the diminishing of her physical beauty, Hester's mental strength improves in "The Scarlet Letter."  For, when Hester is younger and of striking beauty, she is contolled by her passionate nature and, thus, acts upon its dictates.  As a result, her marriage with the cerebral older man fails as he is not a suitable partner for her.  And, of course, her passionate nature leads her to ignore the mores of her strict Puritan society and love the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale.

However, after Hester suffers the ignominy of confinement in prison and the labeling of the scarlet letter, she transfers her passionate urges to her daughter, "a lovely and passionate flower," whom she dresses in rich "velvet [with] strength of color...abundantly emtroidered with fantasies and florishes of gold-thread."   Having transfered this passion into the offspring of hers, Hester becomes grey in appearance:  her luxurious hair loses much of its color and her beauty is lessened by a controlled heart.  Yet, while the physical appearance of Hester wanes, her inner strength waxes. In Chapter XIII, Hawthorne writes,  

Much of the marble coldness of Herter's impression was to be attributed to the circumstance, that her life had turned, in a great meansure, from passion and feeling, to thought 

It is this strength of thought that leads Hester to become altruistic and help others in the community.  It is this strength of thought that makes Hester the equal of Chillingworth when she confronts him in her effort to save Dimmesdale, and in her defeat of the physician in the final scaffold scene:  "Thou hast escaped me!"


jdellinger | Student

At the beginning of the story, Hester's hair is long and flowing and the "A" is embroidered with gold. She seems to have a flagrant disregard for the subdued Purtian society in which she lives. As the story progresses, she begins to conform to the society; her hair becomes covered and she begins to conform not only to the society's fashion but also to their ideals as well. Although still beautiful, she becomes a Puritan woman in many ways.

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The Scarlet Letter

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