As an unwed mother, stamped with the endless castigation of public shame for baring a child viewed by society as a demon, Hester Prynne’s situation could be described as less than ideal. A status that would generally be seen as deficient is embraced and glorified by this rebel with a cause. Hester develops this insurgent protagonistic character throughout the novel as she molds her personal shame into dauntless pride.
Hester Prynne makes an arcane appearance in the beginning of her story as she steps through the doors of the gated prison. The readers have been briefly informed of her situation, being she has been sent to America by her husband, is rearing a three month-old baby, and is currently incarcerated. However, as she stands in front of the critical crowd outside the prison, she seems to show little to no remorse. Hawthorne states, “Wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbours. On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A” (2). The chesty smile and self-assured smile radiates a sense of confidence, not usually associated with a hardened criminal. This is also the first glimpse of the scarlet “A” given to the readers. Oddly enough, Hawthorne describes the letter more so as an embellishment of her attire rather than a symbol of a serious crime. This introduces Hester Prynne as an idiomatic individual rather than a shameful adulteress, as society sees her.
Hester’s confidence continues to beam throughout the novel, growing in intensity. Instead of resolving to a new area to settle away from the shame of the public, she decides to find placidity in remaining where she lies. She believes that indulging in her sin will bring her spiritual serenity that would make up for her wrong doings. The author states, “Here, she said to herself, had been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment; and so, perchance, the torture of her daily shame would at length purge her soul, and work out another purity than that which she had lost; more saint-like, because the result of martyrdom” (5). Hester demonstrates an extreme decision of self-restraint. Through possible to take an easy route of escape, she chooses to suffer through in order to feel cleansed, herself. She even finds herself able to provide for herself and her daughter through business as well as socially rewriting the meaning of her “A”, exemplifying her intense motivation to lead a better, pure lifestyle.
Though Hester eventually escapes the town that metaphorically shaped her, she chooses to return towards the end of her story. She decides, “Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her penitence’ (24). Accepting that her disgrace and therefore her punishment had welded her into a person that she has proud of. She dies and is buried where her biggest mistake had occurred, because she saw it as the makings of a legend. This is Hester’s final decision of the story, as she proves it to be the most defining factor of her character: the embracing of her sin.
The popular phrase that “someone can only take so much” is one to be disproven through the mind of Hester Prynne. Her courage and confidence seemed to grow more throughout each chapter of the novel, and shines brightest at the peak and death of her character. Hester Prynne proves to be the only character to continuously develop in a positive light in this novel, as she transforms herself from cold criminal to rightfully respected.