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Feminism in the Scarlet Letter: A Brief Literary Analysis

Mid-seventeenth century Boston was not a place to find gender equality, freedom of expression, or feminism. Yet, Nathaniel Hawthornes Scarlet Letter is a novel sympathetic to the female cause. Hawthorne identifies inequality between the two sexes, such as oppression from expression, moral differences between men and women and the use of transcendentalism. Unless caught in the act of adultery, a man would not be punished unless his sin was reported to authorities. Whereas, little can help the guilty women of the mid-sixteenth hundreds to escape scorn. Hawthorne describes Hesters scarlet letter as, her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachersand they had made her strong. (Ch XVII, Pg. 188). Hawthorne writes that although she may be ostracized, she has grown stronger and wiser. This is ironic because, where Hester grows stronger, Dimmesdales spirit wanes. Yet people continue to revere him to be holy and her evil. The Puritan society believes that any sin will restrict a soul from reaching heaven and they believe that the aforementioned individual will corrupt their society so he or she should be ostracized from the community. The Puritan religion oppresses opulence so that they should not offend the Heavens; this plays a key role in feministic expression and beauty. Hawthorne identifies this oppression by describing Hesters newfound beauty after her and Dimmesdale decide to flee from Boston: She took off her formal cap that confined her hair, and down it fell upon her shoulders, dark and richand a light in its abundance.A crimson flush was glowing on her cheekHer sex, her youth and the whole richness of her beauty, came back (Ch XVII, Pg 191) The Puritan society suppressed her beauty and when she cast off that inhibition she regained her naturalbeauty. Hawthorne uses transcendentalism as a technique to show how Hester was suppressed. When Hester conformed to human law, nature shunned her with the rest of society. When Hester accepted her heart, her true love, nature illuminated her body. All at once, as with a sudden smile of heaven, forth burst the sunshine, pouring a very flood into the obscure forest. (Hawthorne Ch. XVII, Pg 191). Hawthorne makes it apparent that in the eyes of heaven, not society, Hester is equal to men. It is interesting to see that at the end of The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne has Hester say, In Heavens own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness (Ch XXIV, Pg 246). Hester believed that when the world is ready, man and women would be equal. Hawthorne used The Scarlet Letter to demonstrate to the reader that there is and was indifference between men and women. Even today, while every American Citizen has suffrage, there are struggles for women to overcome.