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The scarlet letter hesters alienation
The Scarlet Letter - Hester's Alienation
Throughout his book The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne is preoccupied with
the relationship between the individual and society. Hester's sin and subsequent
condemnation alienate her. No where is this alienation more apparent than in Chapter 5,
"Hester at her Needle". Condemned by her sin of passion, Hester is separated from her
community, not only physically, as she lives on the edge of the town, and socially, as she
this chapter Hawthorne presents the most profoundly destructive aspect of her
estrangement in her psychological condition. Hester, deemed a social pariah, is left
alone in the world, with only her thoughts to keep her company. In her present condition
it becomes apparent that her outlook on life has changed for the worst.
Hester's life becomes a pitiful mess as she feels she must reject any happiness
she might gain from her meager subsistence. She does not accept any joy into her life and
she constantly punishes herself for committing her sin. Having been alienated from and
by her community Hester forces herself to live plainly and simply. She "strove to cast
["passionate and desperate joy"] from her." She loves to sew, as women such as herself
"derive a pleasure...from the delicate toil of the needle," but she feels she does not
deserve the gratification. Though sewing could be "soothing, the passion of her
life ...Like all other joys, she rejected it as a sin." Hester no longer feels worthy to wear
the finery she is capable of sewing for herself. All of the "gorgeously beautiful" things
she has "a taste for" are sold to others, they "found nothing... in...her life to exercise
[themselves] upon." Instead of applying her time towards "the better efforts of her art",
which she would enjoy, she employs in "making coarse garments for the poor" in order
to repent for her sin. Hester's "own dress was of the coarsest materials and most sombre
hue." Through her sewing, the wretched outcast makes enough money to live in a good
deal of luxury but she feels she does not deserve it. She sought not to acquire anything
beyond subsistence, of the plainest and most ascetic description." All her "superfluous
means" were "bestowed... in charity," given to wretches unappreciative of her talents,
who "not unfrequently insulted the hand that fed them."
Hester's isolation from others causes her to concoct her own demons that are a
constant haunting reminder of her sin and her punishment. She feels she is bound by
iron chains that surround her heart and soul. "Through the terrible ordeal of her
ignominy," while she was in prison, the "iron arm" of the law "held her up." Unable to
free herself of the guilt, in her heart Hester perceives herself to be trapped by a
"chain...of iron links", which "galling to her inmost soul...could never be broken."
Hester begins to believe "that all nature knew of [her sin]" and her surroundings take
on manifestations of evil. The sunshine, usually accepted as a pleasing omen
"...seemed...as if meant for no other purpose than to reveal the scarlet letter on her
breast." In her tiny house on the edge of the dark forest, "not in close vicinity to any other
habitation" Hester imagines that "the trees whispered the dark story [of her sin] among
themselves" and she wonders if "the wintry blast shrieked [her sin] aloud."
Because of her initial estrangement and disparagement by others Hester develops
an overwhelming paranoia which leads to her hopelessness, loss of faith and further
separation from her community. Though Hester remains physically in the town, she is as
good as invisible to the Puritans and she feels she haunts the town like a ghost. She has
lost faith in her own tangibility. She stands apart "...like a ghost that...can no longer
make itself seen or felt." Though Hester is not dead, not a spirit, she believes "it is an
inevitable fatality...[of] human beings to linger around and haunt ghostlike, the spot
where some great marked event has given color to their lifetime." She remains like a
phantom, though she is still flesh and blood. Hester's banishment and constant solitude
cause her to lose confidence in herself. She wants to leave but she cannot. She lacks too
much trust in her own good judgment to leave her lover, the only friend she may still
have. Though she is free to leave the town , "hide her character and identify under a new
exterior" she has to stay by her lover to whom "she deemed herself connected in a
union." She hopes that, though they are unrecognized on earth, once dead they will be
joined at the "marriage altar" of "final judgment" and will have a "joint futurity of
endless retribution." Hester doesn't have enough confidence to strike out on her own, she
feels she needs to stay to repent for her sin, "the scene of her guilt" being the
unrelenting "scene of her earthly punishment" and cannot get on with her life. The
young mother's "sin, her ignominy, were roots which she had struck into the soil."
Besides struggling with her own self doubt, Hester deals with a loss of
confidence in other people as well, and becomes distrustful of human nature. She
develops a strange apprehension of her surroundings, a desperation in her soul, saddened
by the bleak attitude others express towards her, she is constantly suspicious of
everyone's opinions of her. When Hester ventures into town to sell her wares, she feels
"the silence of those with whom she came in contact...often expressed that she was
banished." She imagines she is a repulsive outcast, taunted by the laughter of children
and torn by the frigid stares of passersby. Hester believes that as she walks the streets
the "preacher[s] and moralist[s]" point at her to "embody their images of women's...
sinful passion." Hester's hopelessness at her situation leads her to lose faith in other
human beings. She commences to believe that all other humans are guilty of some sin,
that they share a common thread. She feels "the cold stare of familiarity" when some
look at her and sometimes the lonely woman "felt an eye ...upon the...brand...that
seemed to give a momentary relief as if half her agony was shared." Hester has certainly
misplaced what faith she had in others as their "outward guise of purity was but a lie, and
that, if the truth were...to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom
besides [her own]." Sadly Hester's loss of assurance in the goodness of mankind isolates
her further from her community because she is no longer part of their kinship.
Hester, for committing the terrible crime of adultery, receives the ignominious
brand of outcast. Forced to wear a permanent reminder of her sin, she becomes detached
from the only home she knows and loses her conviction in all that is moral and unsullied.
Wherever she goes, she is estranged, her mind tormented, driven to the very brink of
insanity. Hester not only dismisses all thoughts of mirth and happiness that threaten to
trespass through the doors of her home, but she conjures up images to torment her soul.
She is bound by no earthly bonds, but by the manacles in her mind. The poor girl is left
without a friend in the world and her trust in humans falters and becomes tainted. Her
self confidence is a shattered mess as well. Because of her psychological alienation
Hester's outlook on life has become a murky pit with no hope of escape and no optimism
for the future.
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Hester's Alienation From Society Depicted In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter
Throughout The Scarlet Letter, the moral and social values pertaining to the discrimination of females by society is revealed through the alienation of Hester Prynne, the main character in The Scarlet Letter. During The Scarlet Letter, Hester is punished for her adulterous relationship with Reverend Dimmesdale which results in a child named Pearl. As a result of the adulterous relationship, the authorities of The Puritan society that she is residing in sentences her to wear a Scarlet Letter on her breast that is supposed to stand for adulterer, stand on a scaffold in front of the entire community for public viewing of her Scarlet Letter and Pearl, and serve a prison sentence. But in reality, Hester has a life sentence, the alienation from society because of The Scarlet Letter and how the community looks down on adulterers. Once released from prison, Hester does not try to hide The Scarlet Letter but instead, she flourishes it, separating herself from other women at the time who would be ashamed of it. Thus she is further alienated because women were supposed to conform to the society’s beliefs on how they should behave. Hawthorn chooses to discriminate Hester in The Scarlet Letter in order to ease his fear of the unrepressed female gender. Hawthorne’s feelings were common among male members of society during the time period The Scarlet Letter took place.
Hawthorne alienates Hester from society in his book The Scarlet Letter by putting her through embarrassment on the scaffold, sentencing her to wear The Scarlet Letter unless she succumbs to the masculine authorities and gives up the name of Pearl’s paternal figure, and portraying Hester as a witch who “saps the phallic power” (p.297), which Shari Benstock says in her criticism “The Scarlet Letter (a)doree or the Female Body Embroidered.” The alienation of Hester from society begins when she is placed on the scaffold in front of the entire community so they could gawk and speculate about her amongst themselves. But the worst part of Hester’s punishment was not standing on the scaffold; it was the sentence of wearing The Scarlet Letter being placed on her breast for everyone to see. Hester was sentenced to wear The Scarlet Letter to embarrass/humiliate her because she committed adultery with Reverend Dimmesdale. Hawthorne chose a woman to commit adultery and wear The Scarlet Letter because he has a fear of unrepressed feminine sexuality and in order to relieve his anxiety, Hawthorne must humiliate or repress a female. Once Hester was on the scaffold, the crowd gawked at The Scarlet Letter because they knew that it stood for an adulterous sin committed by Hester. Even though Hester wore dull, gray clothes similar to the other women of society, she always stuck out in a crowd because of the vibrant Scarlet Letter. The color of the Letter was pronounced because the Puritan’s clothing was generally dull colors and only processions of very important people like Reverends...
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