A Is For…

Lillian Gish in The Scarlet Letter (Victor Sjostrom, 1926)

For once I would like to pay tribute to the positive attributes of humanity.

While the Scarlet Letter is a work of fiction, contstructed with whatever aim Mr. Hawthorne had in mind, I’d like to take myself outside of that fact and examine the inherent need for forgiveness in relation to human life.

I was thrilled reading chapter 13, as Hawthorne mentioned the redemption of Hester Prynne. I had assumed that strictly due to the Puritan times her inner light would never be appreciated or recognized, forever demonized by the blazing symbol of her falleness. Forever marked by one action.

I’d like to refrain from the reference of “God’s forgviness” because it was a law which he dictated that caused Hester’s downfall in the first place.

This forgiveness instead is strictly human, devoid of religious impulse. Developed naturally and spontaneously from that which resides within, the conscience.

Hawthorne touches upon this conception I have developed, splitting the communities forgiveness from God, and making it solely theirs, he states -

“It is to the credit of human nature, that, except where its selfishness is brought into play, it loves more readily than it hates” (Hawthorne, 148).

I emphasize Hawthorne’s use of “human nature” here as the outright showing that this was no divine decree to forgive her, but something much more inspiring than that.

We must also remember that Hester Prynne was consistently made example of as a sinner, her fallenness pointed out at every church service. So once more there is no merciful god feeling pity for Hester, but instead it is the humans.

The furthering specifics of Hester’s redemption here are manifold, it is in part due to the community’s ability to forgive, but also largely at play here was Hester Prynne’s quiet asceticism that allowed the reconstruction of her image in the eyes of her people. Had she not so gracefully worn the symbol of her impiety, the community would have continued to demonize her.

Hester instead acted in a perfect manner devoid of any specific aim, it’s not as if she sought out the prospect of rebuilding her image, the whole ordeal she has gone through inherently changed who she was. The community recognized her pure and honest intentions and reformed their perceptions of her.

Such a change of view of Prynne excites my inner humanity regardless of it being a work of fiction.

Hawthorne is communicating something very deep here.

Even the most rigid Puritan society can achieve new levels of acceptance. Even those damned eternal can find redemption.

It would interesting to have a specific account of one of the townspeople who changed their view of Hester as the A began to be interpreted differently, Hawthorne states, “The letter was a symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her,- so much power to do, and power to sympathize, — that many people refused to interpret the scarlet letter A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength.” (Hawthorne, 149)

Able, no longer adulterer, but able. What a hopeful allusion to the potential of Hester and Puritan culture.

I wish the book ended here in that nice moment.

But Murphy’s law usually abides.

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