Feminism in the 19th Century
The definition of feminism is the belief that women are inherently equal to men and deserve the same rights and opportunities. It’s an accepted belief now, yet during the Puritan times, women were thought of as lesser than men. They stayed at home taking care of the children, cooking and cleaning while their husbands went out to work. Men were thought of as the power of society, when women were not given t…. In the Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne uses strong independent female characters to show how society treats women unfairly.
Hawthorne isn’t constantly clear in his depiction of Hester as a strong woman deserving of profound respect. His propensity toward obfuscation, in combination with the now-old gender roles depicted in The Scarlet Letter, deceives some readers into believing that Hester is weak and her behavior is illogical, that she “She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness” (Hawthorne 196). But in fact, even those actions that may strike as puzzlingly pointless move toward becoming, upon closer reading, proof of Hester’s strength.
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It may be asked why Hester stoically chooses to “resume the symbol of which we have related so dark a tale” instead of ripping it off, however Hawthorne suggests that she appropriates the letter A, making it her own and transforming it into an image not of her adultery, but rather of her numerous abilities, and “a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, and yet with reverence, too” (Hawthorne 257). Some may wonder why Hester remains in the midst of the people who have treated her so badly, but Hawthorne argues that by staying in town, she shows that she does not have to run away from her past in order to rise above it.
Even when Hawthorne communicates disapproval with Hester’s actions, though an undercurrent of approval keeps running underneath it. For instance, Hawthorne indicated judgment of Hester’s expanding coldness and confidence is alleviated by a solid sense that he understands and appreciates the reasons she has changed, showing how “The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread.” (Hawthorne 196). Explain quote
Despite how cool she is, lots of unfair treatment. Show it. Concrete details!! If Hawthorne is often reserved in his praise for Hester, however, he is just as often lavish in his criticism of the individuals that judge her. He depicts the individuals who judge her, male and female alike, as coarse hypocrites. He directs the audience’s attention toward Mistress Hibbins, forcing the recognition of the insanity of a society that endures an unrepentant, devil-worshipping witch from one viewpoint, yet still banishes a two-timing woman on the other.
He asks that the readers think about Hester’s strength, openness, and loyalty with Dimmesdale’s fainthearted silence and Chillingworth’s nearly psychotic quest for revenge, “[S]he felt or fancied, then, that the scarlet letter had endowed her with a new sense. She shuddered to believe, yet could not help believing, that it gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts” (Hawthorne 83).
He has Dimmesdale state explicitly that adultery is meaningless compared with the evil of vengeance, an explanation that gives Hester a role as a saint because of society in general, Chillingworth specifically. Hawthorne stresses that in the face of unbearably cruel treatment, Hester responds with laudable strength and humility, transcending above the view society has put upon her, “these had been her teachers,—stern and wild ones,—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss” (Hawthorne 196).
Of course, Hawthorne never would have used the word feminist to describe Hester Prynne. However is a modern reader described a feminist as somebody who believes that women have rights, Hawthorne would most likely agree that Hester fits the description. His tapestry of confirmation for Hester’s actions, which he weaves from both calm and bold colors, gives an image of what strong pro-women supposition looked like in the days before women’s rights and feminism even existed.
Although the Scarlet Letter was written in the 1850s, a while before the appearance of what society now calls feminism, the novel focuses itself on the pre-feminist defense of women and their rights. Although modern readers may not identify Hester Prynne as feminist icon, with her cringing, tormented and sometimes self-hatred. But this is exactly how Nathaniel Hawthorne portrays her. Whether directly or indirectly praising her, he holds her up as potential from whom all other men and women can draw inspiration.