Explain how "Victimization" is a major theme in The Scarlet Letter.

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is clear from our first introduction to Hester Prynne and her daughter that victimisation is a key theme of this novel based in Puritan New England. As Hester, defenceless and by herself, bearing her babe in her arms, walks through the crowd and mounts the scaffold for her punishment, it is clear that the victimisation of individuals in this Puritan society for their "sin" is accepted and not rejected by this society. Note how Hawthorne describes Hester's punishment:

The unhappy culprit sustained herself as best a woman might, under the heavy weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes, all fastened upon her and concentrated at he bosom. It was almost intolerable to be borne. Of an impulsive and passionate nature, she had fortified herself to encounter the stings and venomous stabs of public contumely, wreaking itself in every variety of insult; but there was a quality so much more terrible in the solemn mood of the popular mind, that she longed rather to behold all those rigid countenanced contorted with scornful merriment, and herself the object.

It is deeply unjust and unfair, of course, that it is just Hester, as the woman, who has to endure this punishment for her "sin" alone, without her partner in crime, who, ironically, we later see asking Hester to reveal the name of her partner. Hester, as a woman who has had a child out of wedlock, is isolated and rejected by her society for the rest of the novel, and this rejection stretches as well to her daughter, Pearl, who is feared and shunned by Puritan society. Hawthorne presents us with an image of a civilisation that, once you have been deemed not to fit into it, rejects you and victimises you.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of "victimization" is a prevalent one in Hawthorne's work.  The idea of Hester enduring victimization is one aspect of the narrative.  The sin of adultery and being victimized by the Puritan community, and being forced to live on the outskirts of town with the "A" would be examples of this victimization.  The unique element of this victimization is that Hester does not allow this victimization to lock her in the role of being a victim.  She actually uses this as a source of empowerment, refusing to allow the victimization practices of the narrow Puritan society to make her a victim.  In the end, this might be what Hawthorne is saying about such a condition, in that individuals who are victimized are not necessarily victims if they can control and exercise autonomy over it.

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The Scarlet Letter

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