In response to #2 -
It's important to comprehend a culture within its place and time, and not apply and categorize 21st century standards to 17th century events, or even events as presented in the story.
1. She's not just a symbol; she is the embodiment of rebellion in that Puritan culture, but it is that same culture that allows her to live. If it hadn't been for Reverend Dimmesdale, she most likely would have swung for her sin.
2. Puritans hanged both men and women for the crime and sin of adultery, according to the standard of the Theocratic dominated society that existed.
3. Hester represents the hypocrisy of men? Certainly there's much of it in the novel, the governor, reverend, physician all act hypocritically; Does Hester? Hester is viewed only as a sinner in this culture because of her sexuality; much, much later in the time-line of the novel is she viewed as a "saint,"or someone who helps the community, but that is never publicly acknowledged.
4. Hester escapes death by the intercession of the reverend, and again by the reverend is able to keep Pearl; even so, she's an outcast in the society; where does she demand rights? She and the reverend do not leave New England because Chillingworth will follow and there's no escaping him.
5. Although an outcast, she's not a hermit; she certainly engages in commerce with the community to make a living, even supplying the governor with finery. Granted, raising Pearl alone would have been a tremendous effort; would it have been any more so if the reverend did the parenting and Hester remained silent? Would you accept "Dimmesdale proves the true power of the man alone, he raises his daughter preaching hard to support her?" If you're not basing your claim on the ability to raise Pearl, that the proof of Hester's power is her ability to be alone, would you apply the same standard to Mistress Hibbins?
6. Where is Hester standing up for all the oppressed Puritan women? She certainly is for herself, and at novel's end she is an Angel and is Accepted by the community.
Hester Prynne embodies several indirect characterizations that reflect not only Puritan social belief, but systems of belief that are still in place in the 21st century.
1. She is a symbol of personal or individual freedom which Puritan theology did not permit.
"The Puritans required a strict moral regulation; anyone in the community who sinned threatened not only their soul, but the very possibility of civil and religious perfection in America and in England."
2. Hester's treatment for adultery is representative of the male dominated society that exists.
3. Hester represents the hypocrisy of men and their views of women. The female, even today, is judged harshly for sinful behavior and simultaneously pursued by men to satisfy their physical desire. Women are both admired and condemned for the same characteristics. Hester is a sinner and a saint.
4. Hester stays in her town, not running back to England. She is an early feminist, demanding her rights as a woman and member of society.
5. Hester proves the true power of the woman alone, she raises her daughter working hard to support her.
6. Hester stands up for all women, as she becomes an icon, celebrated for her courage. She continues to wear the A long after her punishment is fulfilled, with indignant pride and accomplishment.