In The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne Prynne redefines herself despite being shunned by the Puritan community. Although she has sinned, she does not dwell in the past. She grows stronger as a person from the cruelty of the townspeople and the shame they place on Hester. Though everything seems to go wrong for Hester, the story ends in her favor. Hester grows stronger than both Dimmesdale and Chillingworth. She becomes the voice of those who have sinned, and shows her caring and resilient nature even under the spell of the letter.
Although Hester is shunned by her community, she upholds herself with strength and acceptance. In the beginning of the story, the reader first meets Hester as she exits the prison while the townspeople watch. Hester is holding her child, a symbol of her sin of adultery, and is marked with an embroidered letter “A” on her dress. The women of the town gossip about Hester, and remark that Hester’s beautiful embroidery skills of the letter that was meant to be her punishment have made it appear as if she is proud of her sins. However, Hester is only making the best out of her situation. Although the townspeople expect Hester to be ashamed and embarrassed, she turns the other cheek: “Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped” (37). Hester shows her strength by refusing to crumble under public humiliation and being branded as punishment for her sin. She accepts her wrongdoings with grace and stands her ground: “In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at the townspeople and her neighbors” (37). This event is an example of Hester’s strength shining through her dark circumstances, and it is the beginning of her journey towards accepting her sin and becoming a better person because of it.
While Hester is vulnerable early in the novel, she develops confidence and a new perspective as an outsider, and then shows her dominance of Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth. While Dimmesdale’s sanity is deteriorating, Hester is finding peace with her sin and the letter. “‘Hester,’ said he, ‘hast thou found peace?’ She smiled drearily, looking down upon her bosom. ‘Hast thou?’ She asked. ‘None!-nothing but despair!’ He answered” (131). During the conversation between Hester and Dimmesdale, Dimmesdale is depressed and distraught, while Hester is calm and comforting. This is ironic because it was Hester who was publicly punished for her sins, yet Dimmesdale is letting his secret sin ruin his life. The shame Hester is expected to experience is affecting Dimmesdale instead. Hester also becomes impatient with Chillingworth’s evil and decides to meet with him. She explains that he no longer intimidates her thanks to her new found strength, and that she has risen above him: “Strengthened by years of hard and solemn trial, she felt herself no longer so inadequate to cope with Roger Chillingworth… She had climbed her way, since then, to a higher point. The old man, on the other hand, had brought himself nearer to her level, or perhaps below it, by the revenge which he had stooped for.” (115). Hester’s newfound confidence allows her to find peace and prosper above Dimmesdale and Chillingworth.
Hester finding peace with herself and her scarlet letter is another example of her ability to overcome challenges and isolation. Overtime, she becomes more and more accepted by the townspeople as they recognize Hester as an important part of the community. Hester has been under the radar and has lived a pure life since the incident, which softens the attitude of the townspeople. Hester also offers guidance and comfort towards others who have sinned. “Her breast, with its badge of shame, was but the softer pillow for the head that needed one” (111). She becomes known as a “Sister of Mercy,” and the symbol of her letter actually shifts to mean “Able”. “The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her,—so much power to do, and power to sympathize,—that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength.” (148) Hester generously uses her new perspective that she gained from her punishment to help others, and in return is well received by the townspeople as a strong woman.
Though Hester Prynne suffers through cruel punishment and isolation due to her sin, she does so without letting it destroy her character. She perseveres through her circumstances and gains strength and perspective. She also turns her pain into the ability to sympathize with others. While the men hold the power in the beginning of the story, she triumphs over both Dimmesdale and Chillingworth by the end because she accepts her sin as a part of her life and attempts to make the best of it. Hester Prynne ignores the shameful symbolism of the scarlet letter and makes it a symbol of her own strength.