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Essay on the scarlet letter

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne's scarlet token liberates her more than it punishes her. First of all, Hester's soul is freed by her admission of her crime; by enduring her earthly punishment, Hester is assured of a place in the heavens. Also, though her appearance is much hampered by the scarlet letter, her mind is freed by it, that an intellectual passion rises from her isolation and suffering. Finally, it defines her identity, for the letter makes Hester the woman that she is; it gives her roots, character, and a uniqueness to her being that sets her apart from the other Puritans. The scarlet letter is indeed a blessing to Hester Prynne, more than the curse she believes it to be.

The scarlet symbol of ignominy may have defiled Hester's public image, yet it has been a benefit rather than a bane to her soul, for by admitting her crime to the crowd, her soul is freed from two hells: first, the fiery pit where she would otherwise go after death, and second, the own personal hell Hester will create for herself if she had chosen to hide her sin in her heart. Though it was ordered for Hester to wear the letter, it was still her own choice to make it in a vivid scarlet, "so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom." Hester chose red as the color of her brand of shame, to declare to the rest of the townspeople that she is prepared to acknowledge her sin, instead of denying it; she could have chosen to wear her "A" in a plain and nondistinct color, to escape the townspeople's disdain. By displaying her guilt however, she is granted the opportunity to face her punishment bravely, thus through her public humiliation, she achieves freedom from the personal guilt of not suffering enough for her crimes. Furthermore, "the scarlet letter, forthwith seemed to scorch into Hester's breast, as if it had been red-hot." The scarlet A's glowing embers, scorching they may be, also serve to heal, for the pain they inflict on Hester enables her to properly atone for her sin; by devoting this lifetime to repentance and expiation, she would receive relief in her next life. To the Puritans she is shamed, yet to the heavens she is honored as a repentant sinner who has returned to the loving arms of her Creator. Finally, Hester's scarlet emblem is found on the outside, while the mark that her lover Dimmesdale is found in "his inmost heart." Though Hester and Dimmesdale are both branded with the scarlet "A", there is a world of difference between their badges of shame, for Hester's scarlet token is embroidered in dazzling gold thread and is displayed for everyone to see, showing that she hides nothing, while Dimmesdale's letter is branded on his chest: hidden from the public eye, yet with an effect that is more potent than that of the scarlet token on Hester's breast. Indeed, the heat of glowing metal inflicts a far greater pain than that of needle and thread, the throb of fire against skin is more potent than a pin on a piece of cloth; though Hester may have to endure the taunts of the pitiless Puritans, at least, unlike Dimmesdale, she does not have to endure those of her own creation. Therefore, it can be concluded that Hester was better off wearing the letter, for by a enduring a lifetime of pain and agony, she escapes an eternity of unbearable torment.

The scarlet letter restrains Hester's passionate nature in her appearance, transforming her into a colorless and faceless woman, yet her passion finds another outlet in the deep recesses of her own mind; Hester is liberated by the scarlet letter since she discovers an intellectual passion as a release from a dull and monotonous existence. Hester's physical appearance may be one of "marble coldness", yet buried underneath those marble slabs her "newly emancipated" intellect burns with great fervor. The pure yet hard marble represents the Hester seen by the people; Solid and dependable, possessing a serene yet pallid beauty. The vibrance that once dominated her features now dominates her thoughts, her warm passion this time finding release in the richness of her brilliant mind. "Hester [imbibes] the spirit" of intellectual emancipation. Her passion, which once flowed generously in her physical appearance, is now geared towards the exploration of her mind's inner depths. A dazzling face is replaced by a dazzling mind, as Hester escapes her desolation in toying with new and fascinating ideas. Driven by reason instead of emotion, Hester "[casts] away the fragments of the broken chain," challenging the archaic doctrines of the Puritans. The author mocks the outmoded and outdated beliefs of the Puritans by depicting them as these "fragments"; in casting away these ancient beliefs, Hester is freed from their unfair restrictions, in spirit if not in body. Instead of being destroyed by the scarlet letter, Hester gains the courage to question the Puritan's view of justice; in a sense, Hester is freed from her punishment, since she casts doubt on the actual magnitude of her sin. Thus, the strangling gold threads of the scarlet letter are unable to choke out the last of Hester's passion, in fact, their searing pain enables to rise against the dreariness of Hester's life a liberated mind, unrestrained by the menacing shackles of Puritanism.

Finally, the scarlet letter liberates Hester Prynne because it makes her unique, and gives Hester her identity. First of all, the letter is fashioned "in scarlet, fantastically embroidered in gold thread." The color of the letter itself attracts attention, for its vivid hue sets it apart from the monochromatic garb of the other Puritans. It eclipses everything else, so that Hester is the central figure in the picture that Hawthorne paints in the readers mind; the rest are merely part of the grim background, serving only to enhance the exquisite beauty of Hawthorne's female protagonist. Also, "[New England] had been the scene of her guilt, and [it] should be the scene of her earthly punishment." Thus Hester finds her roots in New England; the scarlet emblem had made Puritan Boston her home, and gave her a sense of belonging. Hester had made herself in Boston, it is the only place where she had really lived, and the only place where she should die. Most importantly, the scarlet letter "is too deeply branded" upon Hester, it has become a permanent part of her, that one cannot exist without the other. The letter was born upon Hester's sin, lived in Hester's shame, and died in Hester's death; it cannot be taken away from her no matter how hard she tries. To take it away would be to deny Hester's own identity, because without her ever-present companion she is nothing but simple Puritan Mistress Prynne, instead of Hester, the woman of the scarlet letter. Though she may deem the letter a "misery", it had made her the woman she is, and she would not be herself without the scarlet symbol.

Indeed, though originally meant as her punishment, the scarlet letter actually liberates Hester from her guilt, and from even greater punishment. The scorn she feels towards it, and the lengths she goes through to rid herself of it show that she does not realize the good that the letter has done her. It may have punished her, it may have caused her pain, yet the good deep within the letter is greater than the evil that surrounds it on the outside. The scarlet letter can thus also be viewed as an instrument of God, rather than an instrument of Satan; sent to teach a lesson, rather than to punish; a holy brand, rather than a mark of shame and ignominy. It was given to Hester as a means of atoning her sin and achieving salvation, and as the scarlet letter "A" rests on her sin-stained heart, it mends instead of causing more damage. Its scarlet fire thus exorcises Hester Prynne's personal demons, so that in the Afterlife she can finally attain her peace.



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