In The Scarlet Letter, what value does Hester place upon her life?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hester has a rather ambivalent attitude toward her life's value. In truth, she lives for Pearl, and Hawthorne speculates that if Hester did not have Pearl, she most likely would have been someone completely different--perhaps even the leader of a religious sect.  His reason for describing her in such a manner, is that as time passes in the novel, the townspeople come to view Hester as a sincerely virtuous woman because she does only good for others and yet has no ulterior motive for doing so.  In their eyes, she had already damned herself, so she must possess virtue because otherwise she could do whatever she wants (after all, she's already been condemned and judged by all of them).

In Chapter 13, the author describes Hester's view of life and what she dwells on when she is by herself at night.  In her isolation and because of her gender, she questions,

"Was existence worth accepting, even to the happiest among them? As concerned her own individual existence, she had long ago decided in the negative, and dismissed the point as settled."

Thus Hester does not believe that existence or living is worthwhile and even considers "sending Pearl to Heaven" and killing herself (Hawthorne subtly describes this as Hester facing whatever justice lies before her).  At the end of the chapter, though, Hester continues living because she has a new goal after running into Dimmesdale.  She realizes that she must live long enough to warn him of the danger that lies in Chillingworth.

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The Scarlet Letter

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