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Hester Prynne: The Protagonist of The Scarlet Letter

Hawthorne draws Hester with understanding and compassion, but he clearly wants to say more about her, about her status as a spiritual symbol. As Levin writes in describing and interpreting the emergence of Hester from prison with the scarlet letter sewn to her dress:

the dark-haired Hester Prynne, emerging to mount the pillory, babe in arms, is presented as a virtual madonna, despite the token of self-denunciation which she has embroidered into her attire (Levin 74).

When one reads the passage itself, however, suggestions of a far more complex and down-to-earth character appear: "She took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and yet with a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbours" (Hawthorne 43).

That "haughty smile" and unabashed look are evidence that Hester stands in defiance of the strict standards of behavior the community sets forth. However, she is not so much in defiance that she refuses to wear the letter. In fact, she has herself sewn on the letter, in accordance with the judgment against her for her adultery, but she has elaborated on the judgment (and the letter) in a way which itself defies that judgment:

On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel

. . . , but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of he colony (Hawthorne 43).

Hester may or may not love Dimmesdale, but she believes she did when they had sex and conceived the "babe" she carries in her arms. She is not ashamed of what she has done, because she knows in her heart it was an act of love, just as the child is a product of that love. At the same time, by remaining in the community, and b...

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Hester Prynne: The Protagonist of The Scarlet Letter. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 00:46, August 21, 2017, from
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