Hester starts by seeing her act as a sin that she is sorry for committing. She changes and no longer feels sorry for the sin. Finally, Hester seesthe act as not sinful, but she regrets committing it.
In the first part, covering the first six chapters, Hester thinks of her action as a sin. In chapter four she tells her husband that it was her fault for committing adultery when she says, “I have greatly wronged thee” (79). In chapter six Hawthorne writes that Hester knows “her deed had been evil” (92). This evil deed, in Hester’s eyes, causes Pearl to act sinful, so Hester feels overwhelming guilt. At this point Hester feels that her actions were evil and were her fault, therefore she is sorry for committing adultery.
In chapter five Hester’s attitudes are the same but Hawthorne shows that these attitudes are not stable and are susceptible to change. Hester moves to a cottage on the outskirts of Boston, but because her sentence does not restrict her to the limits of the Puritan settlement, Hester could return to Europe to start over. She decides to stay because she makes herself believe that the town “has been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment” (84). This belief gives the impression that she views her action as a sin and feels a need to further punish herself. But this belief only covers her actual feelings. To the contrary, as Hawthorne describes, her real reason for staying is that “There dwelt, there trod the feet of one with whom she deemed herself connected in a union, that, unrecognized on earth, would bring them together before the bar of final judgment, and make their that marriage altar, for a joint futurity of endless retribution” (84). This comment means that the real reason for her staying is that Reverend Dimmsdale, the father of her child, lives there and she hopes to someday marry him.
Hester believes that her adultery was a sin, but the book makes it clear that she enjoyed it. Consequently, Hester to sees herself and everything she enjoys, such as sewing, as sinful. She continues sewing, though, which seems to symbolize that she would commit adultery again. Hester also shows some anger about her punishment. She believes that there are others who have committed adultery but have not been caught because they were in different situations than Hester. Hester’s changing attitudes reveal that while she sees her act as a sin, she believes her punishment was unjustified, even though she pretends to be punishing herself even more.
In the second part of the book Hester’s views change: she is no longer sorry for what she has done. Hester’s mood changes “from passion and feeling to thought” (158). Instead of seeing her act as impulsive, as an act of passion, Hester now inwardly decides that the act was not such an evil sin, and she is not sorry for committing it. She shows that she thinks the act she and Dimmsdale committed was not evil when she tells him, ” What we did had a consecration of its own”(186). The Scarlet Letter was supposed to remind Hester and the townspeople of her sin and make her sorry about her act, but as Hawthorne writes, “The scarlet letter had not done its office” (160). Hester goes beyond her punishment and helps the poor, making the townspeople feel that the scarlet letter stands for “able” rather than “adultery” (156). This causes the townspeople to start to think the “A” stands for angel instead of adultery. Hester’s progression from passion to thought leads her to conclude that the adultery was not evil but beautiful, therefore there was no reason for her to feel guilty any more.
The third part of Hester’s development is found in the last chapter. Hester is an old woman who is now looked upon as an advisor. At this point in her life she does not see her adultery as a sin, but for the sake of womanhood she is regretful that she did it. She knows that someone will “establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness” (245). Hawthorne describes that Hester had earlier thought of being the “prophetess” of this changing relationship. Yet now Hester “recognized the impossibility that any mission of divine and mysterious truth should be confided to a woman stained with sin, bowed down with shame, or even burdened with lifelong sin” (245). This shows her recognition of her impurity and that she would have liked to have been pure so that she could have changed womanhood.
Throughout the book, Hester attitudes are hard to read. She outwardly portrays Puritan feelings and attitudes, but is merely hiding what she is actually feeling. She moves from showing only Puritan attitudes, seeing her act as a sin, to showing her inner thoughts, not seeing her act as a sin. She does, however, regret the adultery at the end because it damaged her and she feels she could have brought more to the world if she had not committed the act. Hester went through many struggles to finally show her inward feelings and deny the Puritan beliefs.
A Character Analysis of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter
Though Hester Prynne is undoubtedly the main protagonist in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, it would be fair to argue that rather than being an intimate exploration of the character’s innate emotions and nature, the narrative is instead an exposé of the different and varying external forces that work to transform and shape Hester from the character we see in the beginning of the novel to the character we see at the end.
The reader is given very little detail of Hester’s life prior to the revelation of her affair with Dimmesdale and subsequent public exile. We learn that in her younger years Hester’s parents used to frequently pick her up on her perceivably bad behavior, and this can lead to assumptions that she was a strong willed, impulsive and even reckless young lady, and this is further evidenced by the very fact that she has had an affair to bring her to her current situation.
The woman and character with whom the reader is truly acquainted, however, is the Hester Prynne that is created by the townsfolk after her sins are revealed. Forced to spend much time alone after being publicly shamed and exiled from her community, Hester is provided with much time to contemplate her own life and consider broader topics such as morality, human nature and social order. As a result of this imposed thinking time, Hester becomes something of an introspective, stoic ‘maverick’ who is shown to be a freethinker who the rest of the community regard as dangerous. Though the narrator of the story is shown to outwardly disapprove of Hester’s freethinking attitude, the reader can indicate in some of the narrator’s tone that he in fact privately admires the independence that Hester has gained through her alienation.
Through the birth and experience of her illegitimate child, Hester is shown to become much more of a sympathetic maternal figure. Her once rash and sharp tendencies are curtailed as she becomes very aware that her personal actions could trigger the loss of her daughter. Not only does she become maternal toward her offspring, but she also begins to undertake a maternal role with regards to wider society. The reader hears how she cares for the poor of the town and provides them with clothing and food, and towards the conclusion of the novel we see that Hester has in fact become one of the leading and most respected mother figures in the entire community.
Hester’s character changed within the novel far earlier than the town’s people realized, and it was only when the rest of the community looked beyond her public ‘shame’ and realized her real value that the stigma of the Scarlet Letter was diminished. Overall, the key takeaway that can be ascertained from this series of events is the fact that it was the fault of the town father’s sexist nature that forced Hester in to exile, and it was these extraordinary and tasking circumstances that molded her in to the figure that is present at the novel’s climax.