In Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter Hester Prynne accepts that she has sinned and realizes that she must pay the price for her crime. In doing so she becomes overwhelmed with courage and conviction and assumes a redemption that is denied to most of her fellow townspeople. For a woman who possesses Hester's strength of character, the route toward the wilderness of escape would also be a route toward the wilderness of admitting that those who judge her are her superiors. Hester Prynne's strength of character as well as her willingness to accept her fate prove to be valuable qualities necessary to succeed in an environment of conformity.
Hester comprehends that she must compensate for her offense, but her deeds reveal a veiled disobedience. Although Hester herself is not allowed to dress in anything but drab clothing with the only spot of light being her bright red letter, she rebels by dressing her daughter Pearl in gaily colored clothes that express a "wild, desperate, defiant mood" (66). A similar example of Hester's silent rebellion and steely independence is showcased in the form of her behavior when she leaves prison; her audacity compares favorably to the rather gloomy assemblage she...
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Hawthorne suggests in The Scarlet Letter that redemption for sin comes through the gateway of accurate self-knowledge. Paradoxically, this "gateway" is the result of sin. In describing Hester's and Dimmesdale's sin, Hawthorne alludes to the Biblical original sin of Adam and Eve. The results of Adam's and Eve's sin was knowledge of good and evil, which Hawthorne metaphorically likens to self-knowledge and critics expand to mean knowledge of humanity: Dimmesdale's sin gives him an empathy with the sinners of humanity, and Hester's sin eventually leads her to minister to and care for the ill of humanity. In other words, both come to know and understand humanity once they come to know and understand themselves.
Hawthorne's suggestion, which is made through this illustrative logical circle of sin -- self -- others, is that redemption for one's sin originates in knowledge of and understanding of one's self to such a depth that its natural extension is to know and understand humanity. Hawthorne implies that such knowledge and understanding leads to an embrace of others. This is sharply contrasted to the Puritan community's practice of expelling humanity, such as Hester, when humanity in the form of the individual is caught in sin. Further, Hawthorne suggests that the embrace of humanity via the individual other leads from redemption to the renewal of purity, a purity that is opposite of the Puritan community's hollow, meaningless purity -- which is the purity of expulsion.