Critical Essay on The Role of Women in the Novel Scarlet Letter

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Middlebury College
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Literature review
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Women are perceived to be the weaker sex in society but in them possess an ultimate potential and plenty of power. According to Hawthorn in the original scarlet letter, narrates a story about Hester Prynne, a woman who has been subjected to ill-treatment by being a mother of a child whose father is unknown to the Boston settlement society (Hawthorne). As the story unfolds in the novel, Hester Prynne is taken from the prison to the scaffold to stand judgment before the magistrate because she is accused of adultery. The women in the entire Boston society suffer significantly from gender-based challenges and constant manipulation from all members of the community. From the novel, Hester Prynne by being a woman is subjected to an inquiry to affirm the biological father of her daughter pearl as a form of punishment she is forced to wear the marks which identify her in the entire society as an adulteress (Hawthorne 51-52).

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Role of Women in The Scarlet Letter

Hawthorn, in the novel, builds on the character of women perceived to be weak by revealing their full potential in the manner in which they overcome the challenges imposed on them. It is imperative to note that the setting of the novel depicts a controversial society whose narrative revolves around, iniquity, conceit, and vengeance vested on women and the position which they occupy in the Puritan community. According to (Buell 2005) the role of women in the scarlet letter is portrayed as powerless, weak, and of no benefit to the entire society. The women are wholly confined under the umbrella of men and have no power whatsoever to make contributions and take part in the decision-making process. On the other hand, in The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne intentionally positioned the women to take the sole responsibilities of the male a sign to indicate that, if granted an opportunity, they can be independent and active in the entire society (Buell 2005).

On a similar account, Hawthorne reveals women as the icon of transformation and change from gender-based mistreatment to culture into modern equity. In the novel, Hester’s decision to wear a masking letter depicts a woman who was once perceived to be weak but in the outcome reveals a more significant potential. This scenario indicates that a woman who is understood to be weak can stand alone and proper in the entire society (Coleman 2013). Additionally, women in the Puritan society such as the Hester are subjected to the circumstances to undertake the whole responsibility of taking care of the child as a single parent. The attitude and the commitment indicate that women can be dominant by bearing the sole burden on the entire society (Bercovitch 67).

Ultimately, Hawthorne exposes Hester as an outsider whose primary role is to break the stereotypes that women cannot be independent, weak, and have no authority. Hester who does not have a husband manages to provide for her daughter Pearl economically indicates that when the women are empowered they can perform and become productive in society. The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread (136). Hawthorn, in the book, portrays women as the agents of change in society, the scarlet letter illustrates the life of Hester Prynne and her daughter pearl struggling against the discrimination of the entire community. The magnitude of the suffering and the nature of the mistreatment they are subjected to depict the active woman who against all the odds can bring change in the entire society. As the novel progresses, Hawthorn exposes the success that accompanies the determination of Hester. By being a woman from another community, it was entirely challenging to go against the wish of men in the society perceived to be male-dominated.

Hawthorn reveals the connection between Hester and the local preacher Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester’s husband as the colleagues who use the assistance of the alias of Roger Chillingworth to hide the identity of Pearl's father. The mother and the child have primarily perceived outcasts in the society which interns Dimmesdale and Hester’s husband's unjust treatment. Hawthorn, amidst all these challenges experienced by Hester, comes out as the most successful since the intention to reveal to the entire society the dangers of subjecting women to suffering is a significant violation of human rights (Sidelined 2008). On the other hand, Hawthorn displays Hester Prynne as a strong woman amidst all men in society. Her sad life discloses women’s low status in the seventeenth century in the Puritan community in New England and exposes mercilessly and the prejudiced treatment launched against them. However, the cruel lifestyle and the shame Hester and Pearl experiences from the native and the rest of the society render Hester keen to pursue the changes regarding feminism in the community.

The perfect reflection of the problems women experiences in the scarlet letter shows that women are active, industrious with loving spirit to bring change to divert the motive of the entire society to treat women fairly regardless of their sex. Also, the Puritan women as portrayed by Hawthorn are bitter enough and are subjected to hardship situations, but their consciousness remains steadfast to display their strength in society. Also, the role of women in the Novel Scarlet Letter is that they act as the representatives of the new female image with power and strength. It is imperative to note that while the women in North America enjoy equal rights, the ones from the south are entirely dancing to the mistreatment and suffering imposed on them by men in the society which male-dominated. The traditional women are always obedient, loving, and hardworking but are subjected to unfair treatment. However, this paper tends to analyze Hester’s feministic strength and her ability to pursue positivity to bring encouragement and change in the lives of the women who are subdued in the suffering and pain in society. Hawthorne displays a strong woman looking forward to bringing equity between men and women despite the lack of support from the entire community.

Hawthorn in the novel intends to reveal that women are the agents of unity, peace, and love. The presence of Hester in the story indicates that the females are always connected to love and caregiving though suffer from irrational marriages. On the other hand, Chillingworth spends a long hour over his books and experiments at the expense of paying attention to his wife Hester (Doyle et al 2007). Chillingworth takes Hester as a wife meant only to rekindle the household fire and to fill his lonely heart whenever he desires. However, his selfish behavior pulls Hester to marvel at how she managed to marry him. From that abnormal marriage, Hester is displayed as still very strong and knowledgeable. Her attribute to a real loving woman is depicted when Hester is condemned to wear a scarlet A on her breast and suffer public shame in the scaffold only to protect her marriage and family. On one account, the public gathers around them to gossip and look down upon them as outcasts in the entire society (Doyle et al 2007).

The novel depicted by Hawthorn embodied the feministic consciousness like the light to prosperity and the better life to women in the society. Hester, as portrayed in the novel, is a rebellious woman with desirable spirits to castigate the doctrines of the church and the colonial rule whose authority infringes on the rights of women but escalates the inhumane male-instigated activities against women. From the novel the entire community contributes to the suffering women are undergoing, it provides a platform by stumping out the authority which is religiously based but subjects its people to massive suffering and pain. Hester in the entire novel is the only woman who acts as a pillar and the absolute agent of change. The puritan membership and the strict community judges only the external signs instead of the actual personality of the individual based on their character. In another instance, Hester’s rebellious spirit is also reflected in the manner in which she carries out the needlework in the scarlet letter. She displays the sense of hard work in isolation enlightens the fellow women to adopt the same in fighting for their rights which seem lost.

On the other hand, women in the novel show physical and emotional competence amidst the oppression imposed on them by men and the entire authority in the book. Throughout them all, giving up her individuality, she would become the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they might vivify and embody their images of woman's frailty and sinful passion (5.1). Like in the case of Hester, she experiences continuous oppression and is even forced to reveal the identity of the father to her daughter. Amidst all this, Hester still triumphs against no expectation she publicly confesses her sins. The confession forms the turning point into changing the perception of women in the community to realize the magnitude of the mistreatment they are subjected to by their fellow men (Yuxiao et al 2007).

It is important to note that in the story scarlet letter Hester is portrayed as a unique woman with an extremely distinctive vision as compared to the traditional ones. Even though the entire society subjects her to immense sorrow and public dishonor in isolation from the others, she remains steadfast in the full public glare as the active woman. Stretching for the office staff in his left hand, he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young woman, whom he thus drew forward until, on the threshold of the prison door, she repelled him, by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free will. (2.9) The sole intention of Hester in this instance is to take full control of offering the needed support and protection of her family from the wrath of the colonial and the local leaders in the society. It is undoubted that Hester’s love for her husband Dimmesdale and her daughter Pearl makes her mind stand alone despite the opinion of the people. In this pursuit, she demonstrates utmost love, and she believes that the marriage with Dimmesdale is of grace and ought to be respected (Yong et al 2006)


In conclusion, the Novel Scarlet Letter reveals that women have absolute potential, strong personalities, and the ability to explore and transform the entire society as portrayed by Hester, the protagonist in the novel. Notably, the underlying possibility in the book is as a result of the dominating male women in the entire society.

Works Cited

Bercovitch, Sac van. The Office of Scarlet Letter. Routledge, 2017.

Buell, Lawrence. "Hawthorne and the Problem of American Fiction: The Example of the Scarlet Letter." Hawthorne and the Real: Bicentennial Essays (2005): 70-87.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, and Cindy Weinstein. The scarlet letter. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Coleman, Dawn. Preaching and the Rise of the American Novel. The Ohio State University Press, 2013.

Doyle, Laura. "A for Atlantic: The Colonizing Force of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter." American Literature 79.2 (2007): 243-273.

Soderlind, Sylvia. "Branding the Body American: Violence and Self-fashioning from the Scarlet Letter to American Psycho." Canadian Review of American Studies 38.1 (2008): 63-81.

Yuxiao, Su. "Sin and Redemption: Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter from a Christian Ethical Perspective [J]." Foreign Literature Studies 4 (2007): 014.

Yong-li, Z. O. U. "Unscramble the Multiple Dispositions of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter [J]." Journal of Tongren Teachers College 5 (2006): 001.

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