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"The Scarlet Letter" Through A Feminist Lens
Transcript of "The Scarlet Letter" Through A Feminist Lens
Reading “The Scarlet Letter” through the Feminist lens entails examining the roles of women in society and their rights and opportunities in the novel.
Feminism is the act of women knocking down barriers, changing laws, entering halls of power, and pointing out ways that females have been, and continue to be oppressed, excluded, exploited, marginalized and silenced.
Anti-Feminism in the 1800's
The author of this book, Nathaniel Hawthorne made nasty comments about his novel being outsold by a “damned mob of scribbling women”.
Women in Writing
Female writer's works were not respected and they weren't even considered members of the literary community.
The Representation of Women in Writing
Women characters are often represented in texts as virgins, victims, or temptresses.
How Women are Represented in the Novel
Women are viewed as powerless, "gossips", taught to serve the husband, church and their families.
Hester Had a Child Out of Wedlock
She was forced to wear a scarlet "A" on her chest to represent that she had committed adultery.
Hester's Daughter, Pearl
Hester raised her daughter to be outspoken and that is not accepted by the townspeople. It appears that women are not supposed to speak their opinions and are supposed to remain quiet.
"Women derive a pleasure, incomprehensible to the other sex, from the delicate toil of the needle."
"...cried another female, the ugliest as well as the most pitiless of self- constituted judges." (Page 49)
"Mistress Hibbens, with some twigs from the forest clinging to her skirts, and looking sourer than ever and having hardly got a wink of sleep after her night ride" (Page 139)
Women Representing Their Power in the Novel
We don't really see any women show power until near the end of the novel.
How Men Are Represented in the Novel
Men are the ones with power in the Puritan society during the 1800's.
Men are respected figures in the community, they are thought to be the ones with wisdom and knowledge.
The Ministers are the people who control not only the church but are also a form of government in the community.
"... and the young virgins who idolize their minister, and had made a shrine for him in their white bosoms;" (Page 139)
Men were the ones who decided Hester's fate, their opinions on adultery were the only ones taken into account.
Examples of Reading Through the Feminist Lens
"In all of her intercourse with society, however, there was nothing that made her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those whom she came in contact with, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere, or communicated with the common nature by other organs and senses than the rest of human kind."(Page 78)
"But the first object of which Pearl seemed to become aware was- shall we say it?- the scarlet letter on Hester's bosom." (Page88)
"'Sayest thou so?' cried the governor. 'Nay we might have judged that such child's mother must needs be a scarlet women, and a worthy type of her of Babylon! But if she comes at a good time; and we will look into this matter fourth with'" (Page 101)
Some of the most powerful puritans threatened to remove Pearl from Hester's care because they didn't think that she was in the right state of mind to be a mother and that she didn't deserve the happiness that being a mother gave her. (Chapter 10)
"In a word, old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of a man's faculty of transforming himself into a devil, if he will only, of a reasonable space of time, undertake the devils office."(Page 155)
"...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." (Page 148)
"T h e S c a r l e t L e t t e r"
T h r o u g h t h e F e m i n i s t L e n s