What social and philosophical changes have taken place in Hester in chapter 13?Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With philosophical being defined as spirit of attitude, there are changes that have taken place in Hester herself in Chapter XIII of "The Scarlet Letter."  For, she has changed in her person, as well as in her position:

The links that united her to the rest of human kind--links of flowers, or silk, or gold, or whatever the material--had all been broken.

Hester feels only the "iron link of mutual crime" with the Reverend Dimmesdale, who has sought her strength on the scaffold in the previous chapter.  Now, with a new object for her emotional energies, Hester no longer battles with the public, but

submits uncomplainingly, to its worst usage; she made no claim upon it, in requital for what she suffered; she did not weight upon its sympathies.

This new attitude is certainly in contrast to her earlier stand against the governor and the Reverend Mr. Wilson who want to take Pearl from her in Chapter VIII.  And, Hester's submission is symbolized in the loss of luster from her hair which is now hidden by a cap.  Her warmth, charm, and passion are replaced with coldness, and drabness.  Standing alone in society, Hester apparently has ceased to be a woman.  Because of her compliance and drab appearance, Hester is no longer a threat to the other women of her community; and, for this reason, they feel comfortable in attributing new, kinder meanings to the letter that she wears upon her bosom.  Ironically, however, the townspeople do not understand that Hester has not submitted totally. 

MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This chapter takes place 7 years after Hester first stands on the scaffold, receiving her punishment. The changes since this time are measurable. The first major change is the public opinion surrounding her letter. She has essentially been accepted into the society, and the letter is now most often taken to represent "able" rather than "adultery". She has also fostered an inner strength that no other character can match. Her isolation from the community has allowed her to formulate ideas that contrast with the prevailing social currents. She is presented as a more modern woman, one who envision old traditions and narrow patterns of thinking falling away.

Through Hester's thoughts, Hawthorne presents an analysis of the role of women in American society both at the time the story takes place and at the time the story is being written, 1850. He offers 3 steps which must occur before women achieve equality: the whole of society must be torn down and rebuilt, men must change their attitudes toward women, and women must change their image of themselves. This may include losing femininity or "ethereal essence", as it's phrased in the novel. This reveals a very modern perception of social trends in thinking about gender roles.


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The Scarlet Letter

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