Friday, June 17, 2011

Transformation of demeanor and scarlet letter

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We always question those people who commit adultery on their partners; we wonder why would you do such a thing to someone you love? Usually when it happens it is not really known around your town unless you happen to be a well-known important person. How would you feel if your town knew that you had committed adultery even though you were just an average citizen, what if you had to stand in the town square and be embarrassed by your actions? Would you be strong -willed or would you let them get to you and make you weak? Let’s add on another factor, what if you had to wear a letter representing adultery that was to adorn your breast everyday of you life? Would you be able to make a transformation not only of yourself, but also of the meaning of the letter? Hester Prynne faces this exact scenario in the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter. Throughout the novel, Hester’s demeanor changes along with the transformation of the meaning of the scarlet letter.


In the beginning of the novel we get a sense early on of how Hester feels about her crime, along with how the rest of the town views her. We see the description of the scene, “The unhappy culprit sustained herself as best a woman might, under the heavy weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes, all fastened upon her, and concentrated at her bosom…“ (5). This description really sets the scene of how harsh these conditions are in which Hester has to face. We come to the understanding that she knows she has done wrong, but yet she remains to stand up to these people. With the statement, “…a thousand unrelenting eyes, all fastened upon” the use of the word unrelenting shows that the people were not letting up, they were giving Hester long stern looks for what she has done wrong. They stare at her bosom, fastened to it, just like the scarlet letter is, attached to her and never really coming off. As it stands at this moment the scarlet letter A has a full meaning of adultery. Everybody in the town looks down upon her knowing exactly what she has done, nobody is giving the letter another meaning. As for Hester’s demeanor she is confident when walking out of the prison, she is standing on her own firm ground. She is confident enough that she does not bow her head in shame; she takes her punishment like a real woman. She is not crying or feeling any less than what she should. She is very assertive in her feelings and where she stands. It is very important to watch the transformation of Hester from now to the end of the novel.


After she faces the total humiliation in the market place, Hester knows that she must continue on with life. At this point in time, the burn or the feel of the letter is hot and very much still there. We see that the scarlet letter will maintain its significance for some time yet. The citizens of the town have the thought of Hester Prynne’s crime vivid in their mind; they are in no way letting up this early in the game. What is important now is how Hester deals with the situation


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“…where she was made the common infamy, at which all mankind was summoned to point its finger…. But now, with this unattended walk from her prison-door, began the daily custom; and she must either sustain and carry it forward by the ordinary resources of her nature, or sink beneath it….To- morrow would bring its own trial with it; so would the next day, and so would the next; each its own trial, and yet the very same that was now so utterably grievous to be borne. The days of the far-off future would toil onward, still with the same burden for her to take up, and bear along with her, but never to fling down…” (81-8).


She now must face the town, but yet try to remain strong. With the scarlet letter adorning her bosom all the citizens did point their finger acknowledging the fact that she was a disgrace to the town due to her evil reputation. Now more than ever she must sustain the same confidence that she did when she first walked out of the prison. The word “unattended” in this scenario signifies that she must keep her strong -will even though she is not publicly humiliated as she was when she first walked out. From this day forward it is essential for Hester to maintain that assertiveness so that she will remain a lively person. Otherwise she will have let the citizens win and end up being below them. Everyday she will live with the scarlet letter on her bosom; the challenge for Hester will be confronting the different people she meets daily and sustaining her confidence.


At this point we start to see the scarlet letter make a transformation along with Hester‘s demeanor. Now that Hester has lived with the letter for sometime, the harshness of it has seemed to die down a bit, “The letter was her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her, so much power to do, and power to sympathize, that many people refuse to interpret the scarlet A by its original significance. They said that it meant Able, so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength” (167-68). When we look at the first statement, “The letter was her calling.” we now get the sense that all this happened for a reason. She was meant to have this all happen to her, she was meant to turn around her life by the scarlet letter. The letter gave Hester the power not to let the scarlet letter ruin her life forever, the letter convinced her to help others out. Hester could be found in town helping the poor people out, she is in no way letting anybody or anything stop her. Because she is in the town making something of herself the citizens see this and now come to the understanding that she may not be as bad as she is set out to be, thus they now see the letter stand for Able, rather than adultery. Not only does Nathaniel Hawthorne use the word strong, but also he later uses the phrase “a woman’s strength.” In the time of when this novel is set women to have strength of their own was really never seen, it had always been the men who were strong. Because Dimmesdale has yet to come clean there is no man involved, only a woman, therefore only reiterating how much greater a woman’s strength is without a man in her life.


When Reverend Dimmesdale and Hester meet up again so many years after the incident their love becomes rekindled. When they meet on the pathway we are very surprised at what we read, “So speaking, she undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet letter, and, taking it from her bosom, threw it…. The stigma gone, Hester heaved a long, deep sigh, in which the burden of shame and anguish departed from her spirit.” (11-1). We now see the Hester come to sort of a breaking point. A point where she no longer wants to neither feel the wrath of everyone nor feel the pain of the scarlet letter. With “she undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet letter…” not only do we get the sense that she is taking off the letter, but also the sense that she is taking off the eyes of all the people, taking off the burden. The way that Nathaniel Hawthorne describes her actions, step by step, we really understand how serious this move is. Once the letter is gone we see how the burden was really lifted. The use of the word stigma along with anguish shows the severity of her pain. Since she has had the scarlet letter on for so long she does not remember how it feels without it, she doesn’t remember what its like to live a normal life.


We know that she did return the letter to her bosom after Pearl had seen her without it on. At the end of the novel we see, “Never afterwards did it quit her bosom. But, in the lapse of the toilsome… the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma, which attracted the world’s scorn and bitterness…. Hester had vainly imagined that she herself might be the destined prophetess… burdened with a life long sorrow” (7-74). Lets first look at the words Nathaniel Hawthorne uses at the end of his novel, toilsome, lapse, stigma, scorn, bitter, vainly, and prophetess. These alone give us the underlying feeling of hurt and a never-ending pain. If we look at this again putting in more familiar words we understand that the scarlet letter will never leave her bosom, whether it is seen or not. We get the sense that in the decline of the hardships that Hester had to go through the people weren’t as fascinated by the scarlet letter. No longer was it a mark, which attracted the world’s dislike, after all they did give the scarlet letter a different meaning. In the end Hester had never really thought that her fate was to lead her to be gifted with more spiritual and moral insight. This really brings us to a complete 180. Hester is now a much smarter and stronger person. She has learned a great deal in having the scarlet letter on her bosom, she also sees herself in a different light. She realizes that she has made it through and overcome the staring and the remarks made by everybody around her. If she made it through this she knows that she can make it through everything else. Never did anyone think for one moment that the scarlet letter would prove to be transformed from something bad to something good. Only a strong woman such as Hester Prynne could do such a thing.


We have definitely seen a major change from beginning to end. At the start of the novel Hester had been rather confident, but yet knew her sin very well, the scarlet letter held its full meaning of adultery. We then saw Hester take it out into the real world and make something good of it; she now was helping people out and changing the meaning of the letter from adultery to able. She finally came around to realize that this letter had played a major role in changing who she is, she learned a great deal and also learned to look life in the eyes and realize that she has come out on top.


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