In The Scarlet Letter, why can Hester be seen as a heroine?

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Admittedly, Hester, an adulteress who has a child by a man not her husband, might come across as a hard sell for the heroine of a drama set in Puritan times. Nevertheless, she is the moral center of the novel and the strongest person in it. Unlike both Dimmesdale ...

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Admittedly, Hester, an adulteress who has a child by a man not her husband, might come across as a hard sell for the heroine of a drama set in Puritan times. Nevertheless, she is the moral center of the novel and the strongest person in it. Unlike both Dimmesdale and Chillingworth, she has the courage to do what is right rather than doing what is expedient.

Dimmesdale, though ironically seen as an emblem of purity in his society, wishes he had Hester's strength. Much as he would like to come clean and publicly acknowledge himself as Hester's lover and Pearl's father, he falters at the idea of sacrificing his position and reputation. Likewise, Chillingworth is ashamed to be known as Hester's cuckolded husband, so he has Hester promise to keep their relationship secret. Meanwhile, he goes around in underhanded ways to get revenge on Dimmesdale.

Hester is an admirable character in that she stays and faces up to what she has done, rather than going off with Pearl and starting a new life where nobody would know of her past. Through devoting herself to a life of helping others and living simply, she earns the respect of her community, turning her scarlet letter from a badge of shame into a badge of honor.

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Throughout the novel, Hester Prynne is portrayed as a strong, compassionate woman with integrity, who goes out of her way to help others and gradually loses the stigma attached to the scarlet letter that she must wear. After being forced to endure ignominy by standing on the scaffold in front of Salem's community, Hester lives as a social outcast in the austere Puritan society of Salem. Rather than leaving the community, she endures the difficult experience and makes the most of her unfortunate situation. Hester also refuses to disclose the fact that Reverend Dimmesdale is the father of her child and also keeps Roger Chillingworth's identity a secret. Hester also proves that she is a caring, successful single mother, who possesses talent as a seamstress.

As the novel progresses, Hester gradually loses the negative stigma attached to her sin, and the villagers believe her scarlet letter stands for "Abel," which represents her strength. Hester is known throughout her community as a loving, compassionate woman, who is always helping those in need. In addition to her integrity, strength, and compassion, Hester also raises her capricious daughter alone. Following Dimmesdale's death, Hester creates a new life in England but returns once more to Salem. Despite Hester Prynne's numerous positive characters traits, what makes her a heroine is her fortitude, integrity, and strength. She does not let the community of Salem destroy her and lives a meaningful life.

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In order to answer this question, we need only examine the qualities that make Hester heroic.  One such quality is Hester's personal sense of pride.  When she stands on the scaffold at the beginning of the novel, the "self-constituted judges" of Boston stand in hypocritical judgment of her, but she will not be abashed.  She refuses to allow them to humiliate her.  She may be subject to their laws, but she will not bow down to them.

Further, Hester takes responsibility for breaking the law, and she never attempts to shirk her punishment.  She even returns to Boston years later, after she has left and made a new life for herself and her daughter, Pearl, in Old England. 

Hester is also tremendously giving, especially when she protects her co-sinner by refusing to divulge his name.  She could give in to a desire to share her punishment and shame, but she would rather bear all of it herself and spare him, and this generosity of spirit makes her very heroic. 

Moreover, Hester is a devoted mother, even though she knows her daughter will be at a disadvantage because of her lack of earthly father.  Her devotion to her daughter, to raising Pearl as best she can despite all odds, is heroic.

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Hester is a heroine because she has the courage to 'own' her indiscretion. We must remember that Hester is not a Puritan, however living in a Puritan community she understands that her actions have led her present circumstance. She wears the scarlett 'A' and dresses Pearl in scarlett red not because it condemns her, but because it sets her free. Hester can be seen as a heroine to those who are willing to not only see the truth, but are wiliing to put their very soul on the truth... no matter the consequences. Truth is truth, courage is courage, and integrity has no alternative.

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Hester, shunned by the Puritan community, comes to transcend it, and by the novel's end, is a source of comfort for the afflicted in that community, as one who had suffered "A mighty trouble."  Hawthorne makes note of the various meanings of the letter "A" in the novel; at first it stands for "Adulterer," then at various times "Angel" and "Able."  Hester was able to effect this heroic transformation by accepting the consequences of her actions, unlike Dimmesdale, and she ultimately triumphs over them.

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