protagonist of the book "The Scarlet letter," by Nathaniel Hawthorne, in one of the most painful but meaningful moments of her life. The woman we get acquainted with is "characterized by a certain state and dignity, rather than by the delicate evanescent and indescribable grace which is now recognized as its indication" (Chapter 2).
Hester Prynne is in an ignominious state, after having been proved to have committed adultery and is waiting for the sentence, standing before the crowd, holding her four-month-old baby in her arms. We are told that she was married to an elderly scholar who sent her to America two years ago and did not come to join her since.
At the beginning of the book we meet her going through one of the most horrible experiences a woman could go through: being exposed in the public with the living proof of her adultery in her arms, waiting for the men to decide her destiny. But, despite those awful moments, she is described as the image of graceful beauty standing on the scaffold before her townsmen.
A stranger happens to go by and, amazed at the unusual show, stops and asks one from the crowd who the woman was and what she had done to deserve such a treatment, he finds out that Mistress Hester Prynne did evil and "raised a great scandal"(Chapter 3) in "godly master Dimmesdale's church."(Chapter 3).
The Massachussets magistracy does not dare to condemn her the extreme penalty for adultery in that time, death, but to make her wear the mark of shame on her bosom, the letter A, from adultery for the rest of her life. This punishment seems to Hester worse than death because it means it would be the constant reminder of her ignominious state, of the guilt she had to bear in front of the world for her entire life.
The reader can feel the proportion of her suffering, of the pain she must have gone through as being kept in the prison, during her trial and finally when she stands in front of the merciless crowd. The image of her with the baby in her arms is breath taking. But, the poor woman has to drink it to the last drop when her husband, the stranger who happened to come to town as he was given the sentence and who pays her a visit before living the prison. So, the cup of pain is drunk to the bottom.
Anyone living nowadays would think it unbearable, but as we will see further, Hester Prynne can take much more without giving up. On the contrary, she seems to gather strength from all this suffering. This strength she needs not only for her, but for the baby as well. She stands there alone. No one is by her side to comfort her or to share the pain with. She has to endure the pain of having to listen not only to the magistrates who judge her, but to listen to the words of the one who we will later find out in the book, was the father of her child, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. The Reverend has to "exhort her to confess the truth." And yet, the woman seems to have enough strength for all thereof them.
The only thing she will confess is that she is prepared to take upon herself not only her agony but also that of the man she committed the sin with. One of her strength proves to lie in her ability to shelter herself under a layer of hard stone. Even the town's folk is surprised by her dignity in going through horrible moments and never showing a sign of weakness or of hate or anything that might reveal the evil in her.
From the day Hester leaves the prison, the day when she starts to wear the scarlet letter A on her bosom, we follow a woman who has no resentments, no hard feelings, no desire to vindicate herself, nothing that could show a vile, wicked, rotten character. She is living a simple life bringing up her girl alone, in the bosom of a community who rejected her for what was considered to be one of the greatest sins someone, especially a woman, could have committed in those times.
From the day she started to wear the letter on, Hester devoted her life to the others: to Pearl, the baby girl, the poor, the sick, anyone in need. We don't find out much about how she used to be before the "scarlet letter day." The narrator tells us about her beauty and lets us know that she was a passionate, vivid woman. After the day of her condemnation we witness her going through a metamorphosis: she learns how to live in order to dedicate herself to the others. Her passion is transformed into something nobler. The ignominious she was is at the beginning of the novel changes step-by-step into something day by day into a high cause as the dedication to the other's welfare. First of all she does not have any hard feelings towards those who showed her no mercy, those who condemned her without any remorse, without trying to understand, those who enjoyed staring and point at her as she stood with her baby in her arms, defenseless, helpless. She raises the child in affection, deeply loving it. Love is what she gives in return to the world. Hester also repents for what she knows she has done wrong, but we do not really find out what her point-of-view regarding to the adultery she committed is.
Anyway, she works hard using her skills with the needlework and her vivid imagination to earn her living, but also to help the others. But, her actions are not intended to prove something to the society or to impress or convince anyone that she is a better person. Her actions are showing her true character are the result of her generous heart.
In her daughter, Pearl, whose name she chose because she thought of her as her "only treasure," we see a reflection of herself as she used to be before "the scarlet letter." In Pearl our heroine sees her "wild, desperate, defiant mood, the flightiness of her temper and even some of the very cloud-shapes of the gloom and despondency that had brooded in her heart."(Chapter 6).
Her strength and love are once again tested as, one day, in the mansion of Governor Bellingham, as she was bringing a pair of gloves which she fringed and embroidered, she has to stand up and defend herself and her two-year-old daughter. The Governor, in the companionship of Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale and of Mr. Roger Chillingsworth, the stranger who arrived to town two years ago and whose true identity was never revealed to the people of Boston, proposes to take the child away from her and give it for proper care to someone else, more appropriate to raise a child than its sinful mother.
It is the only moment when the mother turns to the father of her Pearl in order to get his support in defending her right to care for her own child. And she succeeds again. People leave them in peace.
The change in the town's people attitude towards Hester is beginning to show clearly starting with the Chapter 13, "Another View of Hester," when it turns out almost every one in the town asks for her needlework and that her charity is known all over the town.
Hester's time in the Purgatory seems to have come to an end. During seven years she found the strength to endure and even to live a life bearing the scarlet letter on her cloths, without ever giving up. The letter A ceases to stand for sin but becomes a symbol of a good heart, of generosity, of unconditioned love. She expects nothing in return. Love is not used as a manner of payment in order to buy people's forgiveness and the respect she lost.
"Do you see that woman with the embroidered badge?" they would say to strangers. "It is our Hester, -- the town's own Hester, -- who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted!" (Ch. 13)
So, we do not only see a metamorphosis, but a transfiguration by means of the letter A. We do not know how our heroine's life would have turned out to be if the adultery were never revealed to the public and if the letter A never touched her bosom. "Much of the marble coldness of Hester's impression was to be attributed to the circumstance that her life turned in a great measure, from passion and feeling, to thought."(Ch. 13) Hester's evolution seems like the universal evolution of a woman in the society, and, at the same time, like the evolution of a young woman heading for maturity. First there were the instincts, the passion, a life without too…