The Scarlet Letter can easily be seen as an early feminist piece of work. Nathaniel Hawthorne created a story that exemplifies Hester as a strong female character living with her choices, whether they were good or bad, and also as the protagonist. He also presents the daughter of Hester, Pearl, as an intelligent female, especially for her age. He goes on to prove man as imperfect through both the characters of Dimmesdale and of Chillingworth.
With the situation that all the characters face, Hawthorne establishes the female as the triumphant one, accomplishing something that, during Nathaniel Hawthorne's time, authors did not attempt. In the beginning of the book, Hawthorne paints the picture of a female named Hester who has sinned. Not only is she publicly ostracized for having an affair while unmarried, but her major repercussion, her daughter, receives her punishment as well because she derives directly from sin. It is through these tribulations that Hawthorne exemplifies Hester and Pearl, no matter how young, as strong, independent females. These characteristics were not easily applied to females during this time. Hawthorne's ability to show Hester collected and under control to the crowd, although she may have felt otherwise inside, while she exits the prison and while she is on the scaffold, exhibits her as a strong woman.
The fact that Hester exits the prison "by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free will", and the fact that while on the scaffold, under pressure, Hester refuses to give the name of the father of her child, also proves her strength and compassion. She states, "Never! ... It is too deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And would that I might endure his agony, as well Lewis 2 as mine!" To Hester, there is no reasons to put both shame on her and her partner when she can take all the shame.
She proves herself to be selfless, another strong characteristic that exemplifies feminist attributes in the book. At first, when Hester is confronted by her ex-husband Chillingworth, she is portrayed as weak and feeble. This trait does not go on to prove Hester as a huge feminist character for the Scarlet Letter, but as the book continues, Hester receives the strength to stand up to him and realizes there is no need to fear him and a greater need to confront him. Her newfound courage makes Hester, as a protagonist and as a female, seem more powerful throughout the course of the book. At first Hester, agrees to Chillingworth's terms to keep his real identity a secret. This in return hurt Dimmesdale, her secret lover.
She does not stand up to Chillingworth out of fear of the chain effect of damage it would cause. Hester says, "I will keep thy secret, as I have his", which in essence shows her weakness towards a male. Yet, at the end of the book, she recognizes that she must "do what might be in her power for the rescue of the victim on whom [Chillingworth] had so evidently set his gripe". She comes to the conclusion that hiding Chillingworth's secret does not help Dimmesdale like she hopes, but in fact, hurts him further. The fact that she realizes this, though, displays her to be an devoted and loyal person.
These qualities display many things a female, main character, in those times, did not have much opportunity to play, especially in the role of which Hester plays it. Hester with society also proves to be a strongly feminist ic aspect of The Scarlet Letter. Hester, as a female sinner, throughout the book, proves not to be a burden on society. Although she is an outcast, many find it hard to not admire the way she holds herself, especially due to the situation she is in. The admiration grows as the story continues. At first, the main admiration for Hester is her skill with the needle.
Many of the townspeople regard Hester's work as the latest trend. "Her handiwork became what would now be termed the fashion". (pg. 74) Even as Lewis 3 early as first scaffold scene, her scarlet letter, the A, was "so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom". (pg. 51) It shown incredibly bright on her dress. Many of the townspeople do not understand her reasoning for such elaborate stitching, but Hawthorne suggest the fact that she understands why she must wear it and accepts that she has sinned and must pay for her sins. He depicts a female who is not weak and who does not runs away from her problems and mistakes, but one who accepts them. She does the same with her daughter Pearl by dressing her in elaborate garments, strictly against Puritanical beliefs. Hester also proves herself to be a strong female character when she does not leave the town and attempt to start a new life elsewhere, void of her "scarlet letter".
It may seem marvelous, that this woman should still call that place her home, where, and where only, she must needs be the type of shame". (pg. 72) Hawthorne goes on to state that Hester is drawn to the home because of the events. She knows that the town is "the scene of her guilt, and [there] should be the scene of her earthly punishment". (pg. 72) Hester is a female who is she is strong and caring, helping anyone she can when he or she are in need. She leads a pious life, and although she could retain all that she earns, she gives most away. Even the townsfolk say Hester is "so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted". (pg. 142) Nathaniel Hawthorne almost all ways personifies Hester as a powerful female, making his book ironically feminist. Chillingworth, as a male antagonist in the story, fails to symbolize males as the superior or even equal sex, and he shines Hester, the female protagonist, in a brighter light. Chillingworth, through out the book embodies evil.
From the first time the reader meets Chillingworth, when he found the eyes of Hester Prynne fastened on his own, and saw that she appeared to recognize him, he slowly and calmly raised his finger, made a gesture with it in the air, and laid it on his lips" (pg. 57), the reader associates Chillingworth with evil. Although, one can't help but feel Lewis 4 pity for the lost soul, he goes on to prove Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter as a feminist treatise. The narrators referral to Chillingworth as a leech exhibits his evilness. The two chapters in the Scarlet Letter titled "The Leech", and "The Leech and His Patient" show the narrators attempt to paint Chillingworth as detestable. Although "the leech" pertains to Chillingworth as a doctor, they " re also though of as bloodsuckers. Chillingworth's mission to seek revenge and slowly torment Dimmesdale goes on to prove the same point that Chillingworth was, "in all ages of the Christian world, haunted either by Satan himself, or Satan's emissary, in the guise of old Roger Chillingworth".
His evilness shines through in his quest for revenge. The first feelings Chillingworth had when he discovered that Dimmesdale was Hester's lover was of "ecstasy, he would have had no need to ask how Satan comports himself, when a precious human soul is lost to heaven, and won into his kingdom". (pg 121) Throughout the torturing of Dimmesdale, the readers find Chillingworth more and more evil. 'Roger Chillingworth - the man of skill, the kind and friendly physician - strove to go deep into his patient's bosom, delving among his principles, prying into his recollections, and probing everything with a cautious touch, like a treasure-seeker in a dark cavern. Few secrets can escape an investigator, who has opportunity and license to undertake such a quest, and skill to follow it up. A man burdened with a secret should especially avoid the intimacy of his physician. ' (pg. 114) Chillingworth's evilness could not escape Pearl.
She says, 'Come away, mother! Come away, or yonder old Black Man will catch you! He hath got hold of the minister already. Come away, mother, or he will catch you! But he cannot catch little Pearl!' (pg. 118) Not only does she recognize that Chillingworth has reached Dimmesdale, but she sees Chillingworth's affliction. Dimmesdale as a character is not so easy to classify as Chillingworth.
Although good at heart, as a strong male character he fails. Hester proves stronger that all males in The Scarlet Lewis 5 Letter, in the fact that she is more honorable that Chillingworth because she does not intentionally harm others, but also in the fact that she has a stronger character than Dimmesdale. Although he does say that it is harder to wear the "scarlet letter" on the inside, than on the outside like Hester does. "But, still, methinks, it must needs be better for the sufferer to be free to show his pain, as this poor woman Hester is, than to cover it all up in his heart". (pg. 118) Dimmesdale is the minister of the town that the people adore. He was a sickly man who took his sin very seriously, and he spent the seven years since his indiscretion with Mistress Prynne trying to repent. He could not achieve this goal, though.
He wore down his body with his penitence and his sin ate away his soul. The fact that Dimmesdale was always "clutching his heart", but could not tell why until the end, before his death, proves him feeble. In the end, he frees himself from his guilt by admitting to everyone his sin. He crumbles under the anxiety of holding his secret inwards revealing Dimmesdale to be a rather weak male protagonist. He also is not strong enough support Hester, to show love towards Hester, or to take his own burden of sin on himself, although he does realize how wrong he is. His inability to outwardly show his sin like Hester proves Hester to be the stronger one which supports the idea that Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is a feminist composition.
With a strong female protagonist and two mentally weak males, it is hard to consider Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter anything but a feminist treatise. He obviously intended to put down not only Puritanism, which is an obvious aspect of the novel, but to establish a powerful, secure female in American literature. Hester proves, although she has sinned in the past, she can confront her mistakes, take care of herself and her child, and help others at the same time. She can withhold a position in society that many can respect because of her character something the males of the story obviously could not succeed at doing.