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The Scarlet Letter: the Idea of Human Nature and Puritan Society

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In most cases, it is easy to conform to an idea considered normal by society. Those who contradict these standards are often thought of as brave, but what if this wasn’t the case? If everyone was courageous enough to walk their own path, how different would the world be? Hester Prynne does just this, going against rules her society has put on her, she leads by example and serves as a guide for others to hopefully follow in her footsteps. In Nathanial Hawthrone’s thrilling novel, The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is depicted as that of extremely strong nature; as she is shunned and feared by society, her defiance against puritain ways only grows, illustrating Hawthorne’s argument that puritian society is unfair and harmful.

In the beginning of the book, Hester displays herself with that of a very strong nature, automatically revealing that she is not like the societal norm. Her strength is highlighted as she emerges from jail doors, having served her sentence for being an adulterer, with elegance and a burning confidence about her. She is met with many judgmental faces, all staring her down as she walks out of the doors “With a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbors.” (Hawthorne 50).The quote reveals given the amount of public attention she receives, Hester shows obvious signs of embarrassment but nevertheless still stands with a sense of dignity and durability. This delineates her personality as she challenges puritain society and it’s wishes for women to act in a more submissive manner. Hester is a clear indicator of Hawthorne’s wish for change in puritain society as she directly contradicts the standard model of a puritain woman. Additionally, her bouldering strength is shown as the effect of the scarlet letter on her chest is made obvious. Hawthrone states that “It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself.” (Hawthorne 51). Because Hester wears her sin on her chest, she is ostracised by society and feared by many. The very lonely life that Hester will call normal for some time also reveals that she will develop a uniqueness and fortitude about her. As her strength smolders, her personality shows just how she objects puritain society, in turn revealing Hawthornes plead for change within it.

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Additionally, Hester demonstrates her growing strength as she begins to show the community who she really is, despite being defined by the scarlet letter she wears proudly on her chest. “They said it meant Able, so strong was Hester Prynnee, with a woman’s strength.” (Hawthorne 146).This quote demonstrates how the public begins to think differently about Hester, she is sought out by the public instead of feared and people begin to realize that being like Hester may not be such a bad thing. She proves herself as someone who will not give up easily, given that the people begin to believe the A on her chest stands for “able”. Hawthorne’s betrayal of a woman in puritain society who acts more masculine by their standards reveals his wishes for adjustment in that society. In addition, Hester also exemplifies her strength as “Some attribute had departed from her, the permanence of which had been essential to keep her a woman.” (Hawthorne 148). This quote reveals how Hester begins to change due to the consequence the scarlet letter has. She loses the part of her that keeps her acting like a stereotypical woman, affection and warmth are no longer a factor in her relationships with others. This change depicts her ever growing strength and Hawthornes plea for a change in societal ways.

Lastly, Hester battles her final fight against the rules and regulations of puritain society as she takes off the A marking her chest. With a fierceness about her, she looks straight on and “So speaking, she undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet letter.” (Hawthorne 182). Taking off the scarlet letter was a very impactful act, this shows her complete unwillingness to conform to society as it pressures her to keep the A on. The notion of Hester taking it off challenges everything about puritain society and reveals one of Hester’s strongest moments, dismissing any opinions or rules that force her to keep the A on. Contradictory to this, Hesters bravest move comes when she decides to put the scarlet letter back on, not because of society’s pressure, but because of her own desire. Hester proudly puts the letter back on her chest, “She had returned, therefore, and resumed – of her own free will(…) – resumed the symbol.” (Hawthorne 234). This is one of Hester’s highlights in the book as she does this with her own free will. She did not do this because the puritans told her to, because the rules told her to, but because she feels as though she has a right to wear it and tries to erase the stigma around it. By using Hester’s strength as his model, Hawthorne protests everything about her society.

In conclusion, Nathaniel Hawthorn’s The Scarlet Letter reveals his call for change in puritain society through the use of Hester Prynne, a determined and outspoken woman who disputes the boundaries that society has put on her. Through being the best version of oneself, it is argued that one will lead a happier life. Despite regualtions made by society and fear of judgement we are wired to have, individuality is bound to be an essential part of life.

Work Cited

  1. Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 1804-1864. The Scarlet Letter. New York, N.Y., U.S.A. :Signet Classic, 1988.

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The Scarlet Letter: the Idea of Human Nature and Puritan Society. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from
“The Scarlet Letter: the Idea of Human Nature and Puritan Society.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022,
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