In The Scarlet Letter, does Nathaniel Hawthorne depict Hester Prynne as a noble martyr that stood for her cause, much like a depiction of a Madonna and child?

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Hester may well be presented as a Madonna-and-child figure. She is first presented to physically appear holding a child as she steps from jail.

Aslo, as Poster #2 suggests, there is a similarity between the shame Hester faces and that of Mary, the mother of Jesus. As noted by sources who have studied Hawthorne's novel, the Puritan society of which Hester is a part could well have had Hester put to death in face of the sin of adultery. Because her husband has been missing for almost two years, however, they decide to sentence her to wear a scarlet "A" on the bodice of her dress. Hester could leave, but chooses not to.

After Mary is betrothed to Joseph (which is the same, legally, as being married) and he finds Mary pregnant, Joseph—a good man—has two choices: however, both involve divorce.

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:19 - ESV)

(Divorce is necessary as the betrothal is a binding, legal agreement.) However, if Joseph had divorced Mary publically, she could have been stoned to death by law. Divorcing her quietly, as Joseph chooses to do, would have spared Mary shame and possible death. (It is only God speaking to Joseph in a dream which causes him to put aside the divorce and take Mary as his wife.)

The Puritan culture chooses to handle the "punishment" of Hester in a gentler way because of "extenuating circumstances;" the same decision is presented to Joseph, and his choice to spare Mary is similar to what happens to Hester.

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You might want to answer this question by refering to the presentation of Hester Prynne in Chapter Two of this great novel, when she first appears to us as the readers, emerging from the prison with her little baby Pearl in her arms. Although no direct comparison is made in this section of the novel to the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus, there is an implicit relation in how Hester is presented. Consider the following description:

She bore in her arms a child, a baby of some thre months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day...

The fact that Hester has in her arms a babe and that we are told that Hester Prynne had "never appeared more ladylike" than in this moment of shame and humiliation ironically reinforces the way that Hawthorne is presenting her as a kind of Madonna-esque figure, echoing the shame and uncertainty surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ that Mary would have experienced thanks to her pregnancy before her marriage. The way that Hester stands so tall and so proudly, and with her femininity reinforced through this action, suggests that she feels she has nothing to be ashamed of, which definitely suggests she is being presented as a noble martyr.

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