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Women's Role in The Scarlet Letter

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Matt Johnson

on 1 November 2013

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Transcript of Women's Role in The Scarlet Letter

Women's Role in The Scarlet Letter
Many words can be used to describe Hester Prynn, we chose to describe her as a feminist. We chose to call her this because Puritan society did not believe that women had many rights. At the beginning of the book Hester mainly followed the rules for women in puritan society. But as the book progressed, she began to not believe that all of the rules that were set for women during this time were right. Hester chose to rebel against the Puritan beliefs even though she knew that it could mean trouble for her. We are not saying that Hester was a staunch feminist whose only goal was for women to have equal rights, we are just saying that she had feminist values.
Analysis of Women and Their Role in Society
If we are to properly analyze the role of women and the impact of women’s society in the Scarlet Letter, we must first understand the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne. During the 1840s when Hawthorne created the character of Hester Prynne, feminists were challenging societal attitudes toward women. Many conventions and meetings were held to discuss the issue of oppression on women’s rights. The first women’s right convention was held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. This was the “debut” of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Expert critics of the Scarlet Letter have compared Hester Prynne to other female portraits of the time. Often times, the noting of the complex combination of conflicting qualities of Hester, and her dark, yet moral heroine that seeks redemption. In a way she was an inadvertent feminist of her time. She turns the meaning of her letter A from “adultress” to “able”, challenging the nineteenth-century division of women, from being either an angel or devil.

Real Life Example
Betty Friedan
(1921- ), catalyst and leader in the second feminist movement. Friedan graduated summa cum laude from Smith College in 1942 and settled in New York City. During the ten years after her marriage to Carl Friedan in 1947, she was a housewife, mother of three children, and free-lance magazine writer.

Friedan's role as catalyst of the second feminist wave began with her book, The Feminine Mystique. For her fifteenth college reunion in 1957 she sent questionnaires to members of her class asking them to describe their lives since college. From their answers and other research came the book, which she published in 1963. It was an instant best-seller, was excerpted in major women's magazines, and made Friedan a celebrity. Its thesis that suburban middle-class housewives were not necessarily fulfilled by housewifery and childbearing engendered hundreds of letters from unhappy, dissatisfied women who realized that Friedan had identified their "problem with no name." She called it the "feminine mystique," the theory that women's fulfillment could be found only in motherhood and family. She criticized psychiatrists, social scientists, educators, and businesspeople who used the mystique to encourage women to live segregated lives in the suburban ghettos of the postwar world.
In conclusion, many examples were shown that prove that Hester Prynn was mostly portrayed as a feminist in the story The Scarlet Letter. This is because even though she knew that it would mean trouble for her, she still decided to suffer the consequences and stand up for what she believed in. In this case , it would be women’s rights and equality. We believe that when writing this book, Nathaniel Hawthorne chose to portray Hester as having feminist values because of the womens rights movement taking off during the time period that he wrote this novel.
Pg. 35- "There was, moreover, a boldness and rotundity of speech among these matrons, as most of them seemed to be, that would startle us at the present day, whether in respect to its purport or its volume of tone." This quote describes how women acted in a Puritan society. The women are pictured as judgemental, mean, and harshly criticize others. It gives the reader an understanding view of how women couldn't stand out against the Puritan beliefs in society because they would be ridiculed and judged.
Pg. 113- "As a first step, the whole system of society is to be torn down, and built up anew. Then, the very nature of the opposite sex, or its long hereditary habit, which has become like nature, is to be essentially modified, before women can be allowed to assume what seems a fair and suitable position." This quote explains how difficult it is for a women to achieve a powerful and influential position in society. Only by having society itself collapse and men changing their opinions about women will women ever have a powerful position in a Puritan society and be equal with men.
Pg. 114- "Finally, all other difficulties being obviated, women cannot take advantage of these preliminary reforms, until she herself shall have undergone a still mightier change; in which, perhaps, the ethereal essence, wherein she has her truest life, will be found to have evaporated. A woman never overcomes these problems by exercise of thought." This quote describes how women had an extra hardship that men did not have. Combined with having no position in society women also had to deal with the hardships they face at home such as raising kids or making clothes for the family. Women have an extra burden while men do not.
Pg. 164- "...she felt a dreary influence come over her...She hardly knew him now! He moving proudly past...with the procession of the majestic and venerable fathers...seemed so unattainable!" These are Hester's bitter thoughts of Dimmesdale as she sees him walk towards his procession. She realizes when he is with her, he is a good and honest man. However when he is around the citizens, he is arrogant and doesn't even acknowledge her. This quote helps the reader understand that Hester is a strong woman and isn't afraid to criticize anybody, even her lover who gave her unequal treatment.
Main Source: Mays, Dorothy A. Women in Early America: Struggle, Survival, and Freedom in a New World. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2004. Print.
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