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 all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore, and which was of a splendour in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony. (Hawthorne 53).
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘Scarlet Letter’ is among those classic texts which must be read in historical context. The story of an adulterous woman punished infamously and humiliated publicly for her disgrace illuminates the common theme of the expectations of purity and marital subservience that women must adhere to. It would be difficult to imagine seeing a person with a scarlet letter in this day and age as punishment. The letter is a symbol of public shame. It is a constant reminder much worse than imprisonment. A prison sentence ends sooner or later where scars are internal which the person inconspicuously bears. This becomes an identity which defines the wearer. It reduces a woman’s humanity that one becomes nothing more than a measured piece of cloth glaring for everyone to see. More than the fact of eternally fashioning a symbol of sin, she has no other option but to live a life of misery.
The uncompromising Hester Prynne represents a woman through adversity who is able to make the best of her circumstances. She is a woman who is able to embrace a mark of dishonour and transform it literally and figuratively into something beautiful and remarkable. Hester’s talent in embroidery and her penchant for creating cloths of beauty became a source of wanting and paved the way for her to be recognized in such a magnitude that her stature, which necessarily elicits caution, was of no moment to the people who likes her work. It was a constant struggle between the community’s expectations toward prudence and the desire to grab hold of opulence. The most respectable people came to Hester for her craftsmanship. This concurrently illustrates the divide between the norms and the changes of the time. Beauty is beauty regardless of the source.
Instead of accepting her fate to wear a dowdy and deplorable piece of degradation, Hester turned it into an adornment worthy of being hailed as a stylish ornament. This defiance became a source of her strength which only proves how strong-willed and determined she is to live a life with a sense of normalcy and pride. She tried hard to keep Pearl from learning what the letter meant. Pearl from an early age gravitated towards the letter which she attached to her mother’s persona. The prying of the young child was the constant and only reminder of the letter’s significance. Her mother initially went to great lengths to conceal her transgression. Regardless of her punishment, Hester’s instinct and passion to keep her daughter proves her great maternal love.
The love which reverberates through the novel exemplifies a sense of dissent taken up by a woman whose most potent sin is to defy the rules that her Puritan society imposes with grave restrictions. The forgotten love of Hester and Roger Chillingworth intertwined with the immoral love of Hester and Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale. Her redemption lies in the truth of her affair with Dimmesdale and Chillingworth’s identity but she kept these secrets prudently. But most important of all is the love of Hester for Pearl. These relationships transcended time and misfortunes. This enlightens the love that shone and ultimately triumphed toward a peaceful ending to Hester Prynne’s story.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter: With an Introduction and Contemporary Criticism. Ed. Mary R. Reichardt and Joseph Pearce. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 2009. Print.