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Mikayla Williams
Ms. Renner
AP Lit
16 October 2014
How Hawthorne Portrayed Hester
Women have often been seen as inferior to men in some literature, but Nathaniel
Hawthorne portrayed Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter as a prominent woman who could hold
her own in a society where men ran the show. Society often invested its power into males and
always tried to justify putting males over females. Nathaniel Hawthorne used Hester Prynne as
an example of how women can be powerful and strong even when they did not seem that
important. Hawthorne went against the typical view of women in his time period by
portraying Hester, the main character of The Scarlet Letter, as a self-sufficient single mother,
turning Hester into a strong figure in the town, and having Hester question some of the morals of
her community.
Hawthorne portrays Hester as a self-sufficient single mother, and this went against the
normal view of women because the woman was usually supposed to support her husband before
anyone else. Hester Prynne raises Pearl the way she wants to, and her mothering is a lot less
rigid than the other parenting in the town. Hester does not want Pearl to grow up and make the
same mistakes she made. Hawthorne describes Hesters mothering stating, Mindful, however,
of her own errors and misfortunes, she early sought to impose a tender but strict control over the
infant immortality that was committed to her charge (Hawthorne 43). Hawthorne wanted to
show that Hester did not need a man to be able to support a child. Usually women had to support
their husbands, but Hester was able to do what no other woman could: focus on herself and her

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child more than a man. Many critics saw Hester as a woman who showed signs of being a
feminist leader because of the way she thought and behaved in her time period. One critic, who
wrote a critique on how Hawthornes novel influenced other writers of that time, wrote about
Hester saying, She (Hester) is the type of woman who is reform-minded and courageous enough
not only to entertain feminist ideas, but also to get along without a man, live alone, and fend for
herself (Wolter n.p.). Hester demonstrated all of these qualities throughout the book because
she did not use a man to help her with any problems. Hawthorne used Hester almost like a
feminist speaker through his novel, and it showed readers just how strong women could be.
Usually women had little to no major roles in the communities, but Hawthorne gives
Hester the role of a strong figure in her town after she turns her A into a powerful symbol.
Hester's "A" is initially a symbol of her adultery, but it is soon seen as a symbol of good deeds in
the town. Hawthorne was aware that women usually never had the chance to become prominent
figures in their towns, so he makes Hester into the type of character who will be recognized in
real life as a strong, worthy woman in her community. He has her do all sorts of good things for
people, and the townspeople recognize that about Hester. Hawthorne writes, "The letter was a
symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her-so much power to do and power to
sympathize-that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They
said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength (Hawthorne 113)."
It was unusual during that time for people to think that women had any kind of strength to do
important things, and the fact that Hawthorne said that Hester had a womans strength
indicates that Hester was stronger than most men in her community when it came to helping
people and sympathizing with them. Another critic wrote an article on Hawthornes The Scarlet
Letter about how different male authors have portrayed womens lives throughout different

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novels. She mentioned how strong Hester was compared to other women by writing, She
(Hester) was able to become an important figure in society when no other women were
considered to be very important (Lutes n.p.). Hester demonstrated this by making a name for
herself in the town in a positive way instead of being known as just the adulteress. Being strong
and independent are just two of the ways that Hester broke all stereotypes of women during that
time.
Usually women never had the chance to question what the authority of the town, but
Hawthorne shows that some women, like Hester, can be strong enough to think for themselves.
The governor of the town is thinking about taking Pearl away from Hester, and Hester takes it
upon herself to go to the governor and make her point known to him that she is fit to keep her
child. This is during the time when the people of the town do not respect Hester yet. Hawthorne
could have made Hester a weak woman who let all the men of the town walk all over her, but he
chose to make her an independent woman who fought for what she wanted. She has to convince
the governor that Pearl is not a devil child, and she has to show them that she is a capable
mother, but she is going to take Pearl with her either way. Hester tells the governor, He gave
her in requital of all things else, which ye had taken from me. She is my happiness!-she is my
torture, none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life! Pearl punishes me too! See ye not, she is the
scarlet letter, only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a millionfold the power of
retribution for my sin? Ye shall not take her! I will die first! (Hawthorne 64) Hester was able to
keep Pearl because of her ability to stand up for herself. One of the critics mentioned earlier also
thought that Hester was a feminist advocate of her time because she had a different mindset than
most women. He wrote, Hester is a "social rebel," the paradigm of the female subversive
dissident (Wolter n.p.). This critic is basically saying that Hester is the epitome of a woman who

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is against authority and seeks to change it. Hester was a rarity in that time because she did not
let people walk all over her.
Hawthorne portrays Hester in a positive light in The Scarlet Letter during a time when
women were seen as being inferior to men. Hester was able to overcome the challenges of being
a woman and make her presence known to everyone in her community as being a strong
individual. Hester was seen by many critics as a prominent character because of her ability to
stand up for herself. Hawthorne went against the typical view of women in his time period by
portraying Hester as a self-sufficient single mother, turning Hester into a strong figure in the
town, and having Hester question some of the morals of her community. Hester pretty much
accomplished what no other woman could in her time.

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Works Cited
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter with Connections. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston,
1850. Print.
Lutes, Jean. "Reading Hawthorne in a Gender-Biased Community." Academic Search
Premier. EBSCO, n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2014.
Wolter, Jrgen C. "Southern Hesters : Hawthorne's Influence on Kate Chopin, Toni
Morrison, William Faulkner, and Tennessee Williams." Academic Search Premier.
EBSCO, n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2014.