Nowadays, many readers try to read Hester Prynne as a feminist prototype. They admire her strength and rebelliousness. Hawthorne, however, seemed either to know little about or to care little for feminism. I'm wondering if Hawthorne and his readers would have read her as willful and reckless. Certainly she learns from her mistakes, but I don't think they would have seen her as a proponent of women's rights and free love the way some readers nowadays take her.

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I must agree with mwestwood here. I, too, see Hester as a feminist. Given that she stands up for her own individual beliefs and refuses to speak on the father of her child, Hester is the epitome of a feminist. She does not feel challenged by the men who require her answer. She wears her strength with pride. Hester means to remove herself from a society which demoralizes and lessens the worth of women.

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Not in accord with your stance is Chapter XIII in which Hester ponders the state of women, thinking that "the world's law was no law for her mind." Because of her scarlet letter, Hester has been permitted to stand apart from others  and "assume a freedom of speculation."

"In the education of her child, the mother's enthusisasm of thought had something to wreak itself upon."  She begins to question her existence as a woman. Hester perceives the role of women as modified, wondering when they can participate in society as an equal member. She feels that women cannot profit from any reforms

...until she herself shall have undergone a still mightier change; in which, perhaps, the ethereal essence, wherein she has her truest life, will be found to have evaporated.

Clearly, Hester is a feminist, an independent thinker, who does not foresee change for women until they can become recognized as individuals on their own.

 

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I think that Hawthorne had some sympathy for Hester, because he does make her a strong character.  Her actions after her child was born show her real strength of character.

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