How Is Hester Prynne a Feminist Figure?

Hugues Merle / Public domain/Other

Hester Prynne, the heroine of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel “The Scarlett Letter,” is a feminist figure who exhibits strength and wisdom. Rather than allowing herself to be a victim of her circumstances and Puritan contempt, she lives as a resilient woman and doesn’t allow herself and her sexuality to be controlled by patriarchal norms.

Because she committed adultery while her husband was presumed to be shipwrecked and deceased, she is branded with a scarlet “A” as punishment for her sin. Despite her incriminating circumstances, Hester Prynne was not only able to survive strict cultural rules, but she also broke them and emerged as a powerful character respected by other women in the community. She fought authorities who tried to take her child away, worked as a seamstress, and provided for herself and her daughter.

A feminist movement was underway when Hawthorne wrote “The Scarlet Letter,” with the first convention for women’s rights held in 1848, two years prior to the book’s publication. The patriarchy was being challenged by women in America for the first time, which resulted in a shift in female societal roles. Hester embodied the defiant spirit of those strong-willed feminist women and is considered to be one of the most important and complex heroines in American literature.