Friday, September 05, 2008

Use Your Allusion: Hester Prynne

Hester Prynne is a character in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. In it, Prynne is a woman who comes to the United States to live in a Puritan settlement in Boston. Her husband, who is much older than her, came ahead of her, but somehow never arrived and was presumed lost at sea. But Prynne has a daughter named Pearl, who is undoubtedly the product of an adulterous relationship. Hester Prynne is forced to always wear a red (scarlet) letter 'A' on her chest, which stands for her sin of adultery. Though the people insult her, mock her, and pressure her, she refuses to give the name of the one she had cheated with. If you haven't read it, I would rather not reveal how it all unfolds. But I will say that her husband shows up, concealing his identity from all but Prynne under the name of Chillingworth. He is driven to have his revenge on the one who committed this sin with his spouse.

It's a tough story, but the book was one of my favorites that we read in high school. Hester is really a good natured person who does many philanthropic things, but because of her mistake she is always scorned by the other settlers. Though she has made a bad decision, the book really evokes a lot of sympathy from the reader. This story is a good one in reflecting on the need for forgiveness and grace toward other people. It's also a powerful picture of what guilt can do to a person when sin is not brought to light. Though Hester is scorned, at least she has confessed. Her partner in adultery is widely respected, but is emotionally torn up every time he sees her be mocked. He knows he deserves it as much as she. Much of the story is him trying to gain the courage to confront his own sin.

With a lot of high profile affairs and unwed pregnancies in the political realm lately, Hester Prynne is a name that might be alluded to a lot in the near future.

1 comment:

  1. Nearly everything Hawthorne wrote is powerful through the lens of today. Look at The Minister's Veil, for example. Wow. That one hit me over the head when I lived in Saudi Arabia!

    You're right, there are a lot of Hesters - and even a few Chillingworths - making headlines these days. Good catch.

    I've been lurking around here awhile and would love to invite you to participate in a blog tour I'm putting on in a few weeks. Here's the AGWP Blog Tour link. I think the topic – “Do what it says” from James 1:22 would be of interest to you and your readers.

    Thanks, Ava