In The Scarlet Letter, what are Hester's thoughts on the pursuit of love and happiness?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The answer to this question is going to depend on which point of the novel you are asking about. For example, in Chapter 20, the way in which Hester and Dimmesdale are planning to flee New England to seek happiness elsewhere where they are not known and to live in sin would indicate that Hester believes the pursuit of personal happiness and love is the most important aspect of one's life and is more important than law, society and religion. However, if we skip to the end of Chapter 23, we see a very different view which places religion and society ahead of one's personal happiness. Consider the words which Dimmesdale says to Hester before he dies:

The law we broke!--the sin here so awfully revealed!--let these alone be in they thoughts! I fear! I fear! It may be, that, when we forgot our God--when we violated our reverence each for the other's soul--it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could meet hereafter, in an everlasting and pure reunion!

The way in which the novel ends with Hester living out her days in New England, away from her beloved daughter, and still choosing to bear the scarlet letter on her breast, strongly suggests that by the end of the novel she recognises that there are more important things in life than pursuing our own happiness at the expense of all else. She has heeded Dimmesdale's words indeed.

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The Scarlet Letter

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