Specialisation: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Scarlet Letter on Issues of Feminism and Gender

The Scarlet Letter, a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is set in Puritan New England in the 1600s. The story centers around Hester Prynne, a woman who has an affair and gives birth to a child out of wedlock. Hester is forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her chest as a sign of her shame. The novel explores themes of sin, redemption, and love. The Scarlet Letter has been interpreted in many ways, but one shared reading is a story about gender and feminism. The Puritans believed that women were subordinate to men, and Hester’s affair and public shaming challenged these beliefs. Hester is a strong and independent woman who refuses to be broken by Puritan society. She is a symbol of female empowerment and resilience. The book, therefore, addresses the issue of gender inequality and the oppression of women. It also promotes the idea of feminism and equal rights for women.

In the case of women’s oppression, the scarlet Letter addresses the issue in several ways. For example, the main character, Hester Prynne, is ostracized by her community for having a child out of wedlock (Hawthorne). This is an example of how women were oppressed in Puritan society. Hester is also forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” on her clothing as a sign of her shame. This is another example of how women were oppressed and controlled in Puritan society. The novel also shows how women were expected to be submissive to their husbands. This is seen in the character of Hester’s husband, Roger Chillingworth. He is a cruel man who mistreats Hester and tries to control her. He also tries to force her to reveal the name of the father of her child, which she refuses to do. The Scarlet Letter also shows how women were not allowed to have any power or control in their lives. This is seen in the character of Reverend Dimmesdale. He is a man of God who is supposed to be helping Hester, but instead, he oppresses her. He does not protect her from Chillingworth or the townspeople.

The Scarlet Letter promotes the idea of feminism and equal rights for women in several ways. One, the protagonist, Hester Prynne, is a strong and independent woman who can survive and even thrive despite the challenges she faces. She is also a loving mother and wife, and her relationship with her husband, Dimmesdale, is one of mutual respect and equality. Additionally, the novel challenges the double standard that existed at the time regarding adultery, which held that women were held to a higher standard than men regarding sexual morality (Hawthorne). The novel, therefore, promotes the idea of feminism by showing how a woman can be strong and independent despite the challenges she faces. The story also promotes equal rights for women by offering how a woman can be successful and respected despite the discrimination she faces.

It is very critical of the patriarchal social structures of its time. The novel portrays women as being oppressed by these structures, and it is clear that the author disapproves of this. They are depicted as subordinate to men and having little to no agency or power within society (Hawthorne). Women are shown to be primarily confined to the domestic sphere and are expected to perform traditional gender roles such as being submissive, obedient, and household. They are also portrayed as economically dependent on men and have little or no control over their lives. Hester is only said to survive because she has a husband and a daughter to help her.

The scarlet Letter is also critical of how women were treated as property, and it is clear that the author does not believe this is right. They are shown to be largely powerless and oppressed and are often treated as nothing more than objects or possessions by the men in their lives. This clearly reflects how women were treated during this time and highlights the inequality and unfairness they faced daily.

While the scarlet letter is critical of the patriarchal social structures of its time, it is also clear that the author does not believe that these structures are entirely wrong. The novel portrays women as being capable of great strength and resilience, and it is clear that the author believes that they are capable of more than what society expects of them. For instance, Hester is forced to wear the scarlet Letter as a sign of her shame, and the community also ostracizes her. However, she is a strong and independent woman who manages to survive and even thrive despite her challenges (Hawthorne). Overall, the scarlet Letter is a complex novel that critiques the patriarchal social structures of its time. While the author is critical of these structures, they also believe that women are capable of more than society expects.

It upholds normative definitions of “masculinity” and “femininity” by presenting a world in which men are in control and women are submissive. This is seen in the way Hester is treated by the men in her life and in the way she is expected to behave. Hester is a strong, independent woman who is likely to be meek and obedient. She is expected to bear the brunt of the shame and punishment for her sin while her husband can move on with his life. It also portrays men as strong and capable leaders, while women are shown to be submissive and need male protection (Hawthorne). This is seen in how Hester is forced to wear the letter “A” on her chest as punishment for her adultery while her husband, Dimmesdale, can keep his identity secret. The novel also suggests that women are more emotionally fragile than men, as Hester is driven to near-madness by her shame, while Dimmesdale can maintain his sanity.

The novel enters into conversation with nineteenth-century feminism in several ways. First, the story challenges the notion that women are incapable of rational thought and action. Second, the novel suggests that women are capable of great strength and power and that they should be respected and valued as such. Third, the story demonstrates that women can be successful in various fields, including business, politics, and science. Finally, the novel promotes the idea that women should be treated as equals to men in all areas of life. It is set when women fight for their rights and follow the story of a young woman trying to find her place in the world (Hawthorne). It is also full of references to the feminist movement, and it is clear that the author is sympathetic to the cause. The novel enters into conversation with nineteenth-century feminism by exploring the struggles of women during this period, thereby highlighting the importance of women writing and speaking out about their experiences.

The Scarlet Letter is widely considered a feminist work, as it comments on gender identity and female empowerment issues. The novel follows the story of Hester Prynne, a woman publicly humiliated and ostracized after having an affair and bearing a child out of wedlock. Hester is forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” on her dress as a sign of her sin, and her community shuns her. However, Hester ultimately overcomes adversity and can create a new life for herself and her daughter. It focuses on the shame and humiliation she suffers due to her sin. It also comments on the role of women in Puritan society. Puritan women were expected to be submissive to their husbands and live pure lives. Hester Prynne does not conform to these expectations and is punished for her disobedience. It, therefore, challenges traditional gender roles and stereotypes. Hester is a strong and independent woman who can support herself and her child, despite the lack of help from her husband. She can also maintain her dignity and sense of self; despite the public shame she faces.

The novel also comments on the role of men in Puritan society. Puritan men were expected to be the head of the household and the breadwinners. They were also expected to be religious leaders. Dimmesdale, the father of Hester’s child, does not fulfill these expectations. He is weak and indecisive and fails to protect Hester from the shame and humiliation she suffers. The novel is critical of the Puritan view of men and suggests that men should be more understanding and tolerant of women. The Scarlet Letter thus means that women are just as capable as men and that society’s expectations and stereotypes should not limit them.

Work Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Project Gutenberg EBook of the Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.” Gutenberg.org, 2019, www.gutenberg.org/files/25344/25344-h/25344-h.htm.