The Scarlet Letter Hester Prynne
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download The Scarlet Letter Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Hester Prynne

Extended Character Analysis

The main character of The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne, is a beautiful young woman whom readers first witness standing on the scaffolding of the town pillory. Hester is a widow who has been accused of committing adultery and having a child out of wedlock. The Puritan townspeople of Boston publicly torment and humiliate her. She holds her infant daughter, Pearl, close to her chest in an effort to conceal the letter “A” which has been sewn into her gown and which she must wear as a public reminder of her adulterous sins. Despite the torment Hester endures, she remains stoic and brave. Throughout the novel, she demonstrates compassion and an indomitable strength of character.

Since Hester is a widow—her husband is presumed to have been killed by Native Americans—town officials show mercy on her. They do not sentence her to the standard punishment of death; instead, they make an example of her through public humiliation, social ostracism, and the scarlet letter she must wear on her bodice for the rest of her life. Though she is at first isolated from the rest of the community and living on the outskirts of town, Hester makes a name for herself as the town seamstress. She sews beautiful, sparkling dresses for her daughter Pearl and becomes a counselor within the community. She acts with humility and provides comfort for many of the Puritan women. Once an outcast, Hester finds her place in society, offering help to the needy and the sick. The scarlet letter, which had before represented “adulterer,” now stands to many of the townspeople for “able.” Once a “badge of shame,” the scarlet letter now “glimmered… with comfort in its unearthly ray.”

Hester primarily demonstrates her strength by refusing to name the father of her child, the minister Arthur Dimmesdale . Her...

(The entire section is 460 words.)