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Contents ....................................................................................................................... 0
Argument ...................................................................................................................... 1
Chapter 1. Introduction: A Brief History of the Feminist Movement .......................... 5
Chapter 2. Affinities and Differences between Emma Bovary and Hester Prynne ... 21
2.1. Emma's Struggle for Cultural and Social Rights......................................................... 25
2.2. A Brief Fore-Conclusion ............................................................................................. 37

Chapter 3. Hester's Success as an Independent Woman ........................................... 38

3.1. Nathaniel Hawthorne: Biographical Data ................................................................... 38
3.2. The Scarlett Letter - a Feminist Close Reading ......................................................... 40
3.3. A Brief Fore-Conclusion ............................................................................................. 58

Conclusion ................................................................................................................. 62
Bibliography .............................................................................................................. 67


Womens rights are a somewhat delicate and unsettled subject we still continue
debating today. Since early times woman was considered secondary, man being the
first. Along many decades she kept quiet just because this was the way she was
supposed to be for her family, children, or community. Woman kept a low profile
and barely spoke with regard to social, intellectual, or economical aspects.
There came a moment when some intellectuals decided that it is the moment to
action, to help the women, to make them be aware of their own situation and that
they could have a better life if they struggle for their own rights.
Feminists were the ones who laid the bases of the social movement meant to
give women a chance to an independent life and their own decision-making
opportunity. Feminism means the belief that women purely and simply because they
are women are treated inequitably within a society which is organized to prioritize
male viewpoints and concerns. Within this patriarchal paradigm women become
everything men are not (or do not want to be seen to be). When men are regarded as
strong, women are weak, where men are rational, they are emotional, where men are
active, they are passive, and the binary opposition could go on. Under this rationale,
which aligns them everyone with negativity women are denied equal access to the
world of public concerns as well as of cultural representation. Put simply, feminism
seeks to change this situation. (Gamble, The Routledge Companion to Feminism
and Postfeminism, p. VII)
I have chosen this topic because I am interested in womens rights, and
especially in womens intellectual and social development. I agree with the idea that
a woman could build a career, in some cases maybe better than a man would.
Although women were fated to accept the traditional, patriarchal lifestyle being
reduced and confined to the housewife role, women faced and managed to go on
independently. A woman could feel entirely fulfilled only if independent. Being
dependent on someone means constantly doing the other decides. Women can be

economically, socially, and intellectually independent. They do not need someone

else to rule their lives; they know how to manage themselves.
A clear gender distinction was made beginning with the Biblical story of
creation with Adam and Eve. Whereas in mythology gender is a somewhat flexible
concept (as world mythology mentions hermaphrodites besides the two genders we
know), in religion (with the exception of angels and other genderless supernatural
beings) and in our everyday life we do not seem to accept and operate but with the
two genders: female and male. After his creation, given the option of free will, Adam
proves a coward blaming Eve for the original sin. In Ancient Greece, philosopher
Plato was the one who tried to settle equality between men and women in his Laws.
The first historical example of a womans fulfilment and independence is the
Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. Even though she was a woman she succeeded to become
the leader of a nation.
The main impact of modern feminism started with the First American Feminist
Wave, with the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. This was a convention on the
social, civil, and religious rights of women. The discrimination based on sex was a
significant aspect. Further on there were other two feminist waves. The struggles
were accompanied by important books written by intellectuals (philosophers, writers,
psychologists). Simone de Beauvoir was a French philosopher who focused on
feminist issues. She became well known through her work The Second Sex (1956).
Novels were also written gravitating around this theme. I chose to focus on two
novels from different cultural backgrounds (French and American), both discussing
with the same problem: a womans rights and her struggle with fate, social
environment (and implicitly marginalisation or judgement).
Madame Bovary, by French novelist Gustave Flaubert, was published in 1857
and reveals the female protagonists fate. Emma Flauberts fictional character, was
built around a feminist core so as to reveal the authors outlook on womens role and
position in the nineteenth century French society. Emma used to read books since
childhood; she used to cultivate her intellectual capacity, so this aspect could not be
changed after her marriage. Emma knew the world from books, because the
patriarchal system limited her a lot. She was an orphan so she was more protected
from the unkind environment when she took refuge in reading fiction. She grew up

and got married, but she kept on dreaming about the wonderful lives she had read
about in books. In fact, according to the epochs clich standards, she was supposed
to have a traditional domestic life and not hope for more. She did not resist too much
leading this kind of life. She deserved more; she wanted a higher social position, she
expected to be involved in activities that would make her feel alive. Flauberts
female protagonist found daily routine both boring and upsetting. Emma wanted
someone with whom she could talk, somehow practice and share her intellectual
knowledge, she wanted to know, read and discuss more. She could not get
accustomed with the idea of remaining at the same stage; she wanted to evolve, to
grow, being a better person. But any such fight includes taking risks. She committed
adultery. She could have escaped, but she could not choose the good way and do the
things that were in her favour.
The sin is one aspect that ties the two novels I have chosen to illustrate a
womans position and limitations in a patriarchal society. Despite being fictional
works of two authors, the fictional characters of Emma Bovary and Hester Prynne
illustrate vividly and faithfully the actual condition of women in the French and
American societies of the nineteenth century. This is why I have decided to refer to
the fictional characters as to real persons and not just paper beings as Roland
Barthes calls literary characters (Barthes, Image, Music, Text, p. 111).
The two novels have been analysed in the present thesis through a close
reading process and from a comparative/contrastive approach with the aid of feminist
views/theories on the female character, as well as actual womens condition in the
nineteenth century society. From this perspective, both chosen novels - Madame
Bovary and The Scarlet Letter - contain and illustrate in various contexts (social,
religious, economical, intellectual, moral) and cultures (French and American) the
same feminist concern womens position, limitations, condition, and social roles as
these are outlined by a patriarchal context.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was published in 1850. The novel
is built around the concept of sin and from this perspective the female protagonist is
presented struggling to recuperate her social dignity and the respect of her
community. Sin got Hester onto the wrong way, but also her loneliness; adding to
these her husband disappeared. In Emma's case her husband was physically present

at her side, but he was not there with the intellectual conscience. Hester Prynne is a
model of real fulfilment. Even though she was severely punished she managed to go
on. She took care of her baby she did not abandon her like others would have done.
Hester went through cruel moments but she found her strength to face the community
and admitted her guilt; she did not even try to escape her punishment by running
away. Hester proves that a woman can manage only by herself. She did not accept
any external help.

She was economically and intellectually independent. Hester

earned money by making fancy handcrafted works and selling them, meanwhile
creating princess clothes for her own daughter. Her own image was neglected but her
daughter was loved and cared most. The characters perseverance and strength are
notable. She is clearly a model for an independent womans fulfilment despite a bad
decision and its harsh consequences.

Chapter 1. Introduction: A Brief History of the Feminist


Even from the first moments of life, woman was viewed as a secondary
person because she was created after Adam's creation. Although she was not the first
Biblical creature we could not blame her for this position, contrariwise to give her
the same opportunities as man already had in society and daily life. Greek
Aristotelian philosophy deems that woman is inferior to men because of her posterior
creation, he says about women: The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of
qualities (Bailey, Cuomo, The Feminist Philosophy Reader, p. 83). But taking a
quick look through history until now, we become aware that Bailey is not right.
Women have advanced in all type of domains, at work, in private life, in society.
Even though women lived for ages in patriarchal societies this could not also be true
nowadays. Of course there are exceptions who live according to the same mentality
in the twenty-first century. The traditional role of the woman in a family in society
was to get married since early age, to take care of the house and children. Everything
stopped here, nothing after this border line, no intellectual development, they had no
right to speak in a lot of situations, no right of taking decisions.
The feminist wave transformed society and women's place in society. But what
is feminism?
A general definition...is that the belief that women purely
and simply because they are women are treated inequitably
within a society which is organized to prioritize male
viewpoints and concerns. Within this patriarchal paradigm
women become everything men are not(or do not want to be
seen to be). When men are regarded as strong, women are
weak, where men are rational, they are emotional, where men
are active, they are passive, and the binary opposition could
go on. Under this rationale, which aligns them everyone with

negativity women are denied equal access to the world of

public concerns as well as of cultural representation. Put
simply, feminism seeks to change this situation. (Gamble,
The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfeminism, p.
The feminists are struggling to break down the assumptions that women are weak,
emotional or passive. In a personal opinion feminism struggles to put women in the
right place. Everyone deserves to have the same rights, dismissive to their gender,
race, social statue, distinction, behaviour, way of thinking, every briefly aspect which
defines a person. For me being a woman does not signify a secondary position
relative to a man.
This struggle of women to break free surprisingly began in Ancient Greece,
when women had no independence in front of the law; Plato proposed in his Laws
that women have the same rights as men. They could choose the same education as
men have, women would have access to law courts, the right to own property, the
claim to live and work in the same way as men, to compete in athletics as the men
did. Unfortunately, Plato's Laws had no echo at that time. Ancient Mesopotamia had
a clear, exact, strict role of the woman. Woman was meant to be the daughter of her
father or the wife of her husband (no author, The Role of Woman, web). Since
early childhood the girls were taught to accomplish these roles: of being wife, being
mother and being a housekeeper. The fact that their marriages were arranged seemed
to complicate more their destiny.
Unexpectedly, Ancient Egyptian women seemed to have the same legal and
economic rights. This is what their inscriptions prove, and this is what queen
Cleopatra embodied. The amount of freedom that Egyptian women had is
impressive, she could manage her property according to her good will, she could own
slaves and even draft her own testament. Their property usually is received as gift or
inheritance, the Egyptian woman seem to have an important statute in the life of
others(husband, father, relatives, society); she was blessed to receive presents and
had power to manage her own goods. I think that she was appreciated, venerated as
goddesses were. But finally she occupies the same role; she was entrusted to the
home and family. An interesting aspect of the Egyptian woman is that she was free to

go in public, whereas this was not permitted in other civilizations. The woman in
Roman Society had the same poor rights or none at all, her role was to raise children
and take care of the house, eventually she would also work the land.
Queen Cleopatra was the one that broke through this standard role. She was
considered the most beautiful woman in the world, but the main fact is that she had
power, real power in her hands, she managed an empire, she was destined to become
queen, descendant from a royal family, she had access to a large culture. She
attended a particular education, she spoke several languages, and these contributed to
her intelligence. She was no Egyptian blood, but she knew how to make the people
listen to her. A catch for becoming more dominant over her nation was to invent
Goddess roots. To have education makes one open-minded, a person which really
thinks, meditates, considers strategies and solves problems for her own interest. One
can easily see how much education can change a human's conception, in our case
Cleopatra's. If she had not had the opportunity to have an education, do you think
that she would have been the same bright, powerful woman? I think she most
probably couldn't. Education gives you as human the opportunity to develop your
own rationality, broaden your horizon and have different view on things.
The feminists wave dethroned the patriarchal society because the women's
duties were 'destroyed', compromised her intellectual development. She lived limited,
restricted by what traditional rules said, by what her role as daughter or as wife said.
Patriarchy assumes that the father or the husband or the elder man in the family has
absolute authority over the family, especially over the women. Patriarchy is like a
social disease for any nation. But men simply do not talk about this, do not seem to
understand the meaning of this word, they never think about its significance. It is
possible that some of them know that this word has ban with women liberalization
and that is all. They do not realize that they are the problem in these concepts, they
are defeating women's lives, wishes, possible carriers. In the patriarchal social
system, men behave with ignorance. Many persons perceive this terminology in the
wrong way, they associate it with religion, which is a huge mistake to confound such
different aspects. Of course in the Bible it is said that man was first created and the
woman, who should help him to perform:

But from here till the fact that woman be subdued to man
power these is a long way. The real definition of patriarchy
is a political-social system that

insists that males are

inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone

deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right
to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that
dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism
and violence. (no author, Understanding Patriarchy, web)
A man is not more powerful than a woman, he has no right to dominate or to
underestimate her, contrariwise she is the one who gives birth to man, she has
multiple duties to do, she has more pursuits than man, she is mother and wife, she
does the usual the traditional jobs which claim these statues, and furthermore she is
capable to have a paid job, even to have career at her work place. There are lots of
women who are involved nowadays in cultural activities; this aspect gave freedom to
women to develop their intellectual synonym part. Women are capable to manage a
business as men do, or even better sometimes. Women are able to focus on the
family, which means having a private life; at work, she could work as well as nurse,
doctor, teacher, engineer, judge, she could have from the most modest of job to the
highest. It is difficult to get involved in such a variety of domains, man would choose
only one of them; but a woman tries, does her best, even forces to manage at every
stage, in every domain, because she is the real 'head' of the family. Even though not
every woman has a sparking career, she does everything possible to have a happy
family, a good job and a social relationship with the ones around her. Since early
times woman managed to do every work that she had to fulfil, of course the
traditional mentality and the social problems drew her back many times.
This evidences that the matriarchal society is the best choice:






matriarchies using four markers: 1) economic: these societies

usually practice small scale agriculture and achieve relative
economic equality through gift-giving as a social custom: 2)

these societies are egalitarian, matrilineal, and

matrilocal with land being held in the maternal clan and both

men and women remaining in their maternal clan; 3)

political: these societies are egalitarian and have welldeveloped democratic systems of consensus; 4) culture,
spirituality: these societies tend to view Earth as a Great and






everything, these societies honour principles of care, love,

and generosity which they associate with motherhood, and
believe both women and men can and should practice.
(Christ, Patriarchy as a System of Male Dominance Created
at the Intersection of the Control of Women, web)
Goettner-Abendroth states clearly that the woman is good at everything, from the
economical, social, political and cultural, spiritual point of view. Matriarchy beats
the patriarchal system. An interesting aspect is that a man could not raise a child,
nowadays he could because of the global development, but not as well as the woman
Carol P.

Christ, in her article on patriarchy, affirms that man controls

everything not only the woman; and is not enough, he uses violence to achieve the
purpose Patriarchy is not simply the domination of women by men. Patriarchy is an
integral system in which mens control of womens sexuality, private property,
violence, war, and the institutions of conquest, rape, slavery arise and
thrive together.(Christ, Patriarchy as a System of Male Dominance Created at the
Intersection of the Control of Women, web)
Lexically, matriarchy comes from matriarch which denotes a woman who is
the head of the family. This term, matriarchy, was avoided a long time in Old Europe
it was thought woman was the power, she ruled, she was seen as a man is in the
patriarchal system. In fact matriarchy is not a system directed only by the woman,
matriarchy is a balanced system ruled by both women and men. But we must add
here the maternal aspects of woman and the social roles. In matriarchal society, the
female is the one who appears more important, but man is not left outside, he is just a
minor barrier. Because of her statute in many concerns, it just she is granted the
proper place.

Early feminism exposed the restrict problem reporting to the patriarchal

system, women were considered second after men. The great philosopher Aristotle
considered that women are inferior to men because of the misunderstanding of Adam
and Eve's creation. Mary Oxlie says that:
Whilst on the one hand women wrote to advocate a better
deal within the institution for which most of them were
destined, i.e., marriage, motherhood and the attendant
domestic duties, others complained of the fact that these
duties compromised their intellectual development. (Gamble,
The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfeminism, p.
Freud also tries to aggrieve the statute of woman by saying women show less justice
than men, that they are less ready to submit to the great exigencies of life, that they
are more often influenced in their judgements by feelings of affliction or hostility.
(Madsen, Feminist Theory and Literary Practice p. 100) Maybe in general they take
decisions by taking into account feelings, but because they have maternal affection, it
is not a rule that all women would do the same. Also men could make decisions
taking account of hostility.
There are three main waves of the feminism. The first wave began with Marry
Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), work which was
influenced by the French Revolution. Wollstonecraft wanted to reveal in her work
the ideal woman, getting over the idea of domestic female to creating a new woman,
an intellectual one, with education, social position. She was aware that there was the
middle-class woman who would do things as before, in the traditional way, but she
desired educated girls, who would be economically independent and have social
freedom. Nineteenth-century feminism evolved very much as a response to the
specific difficulties individual women encountered in their lives: hence the
emergence of key personalities (Gamble, The Routledge Companion to Feminism
and Postfeminism p. 15), key personality is the main fact that a woman should find
inside her, knowing how she really is, she would know what way to chose, what is
good at, what best her fits.


Miriam Kramnick says about Wollstonecraft's work The ideal woman

pictured in Vindication of the Rights of Woman is active and intelligent, blending
civic and familial responsibilities, freed from drudgery and debasing frugality.
(Kramnick as qtd. by Gamble, The Routledge Companion to Feminism and
Postfeminism, p. 15) In this first feminist wave we retrieve the concept of 'femme
covert', which refers to the status of a married woman. It supposes that after a woman
marries her husband protects her, and the husband manages of all her properties, she
could not decide her fortune anymore, her properties become his.
American feminism started with the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, a
convention about social, civil and religious rights of women. It is also named Women
Rights Convention and is was the first one. This action was quickly adopted and
advocated also in Rochester, New York and in Worcester, Massachusetts. Woman
asked for social, moral and civil rights, the same men had. The first debated idea was
the discrimination based on sex. This convention contributed to the history of woman
suffrage. After this convention, the process of balancing the girls education, began
namely of bringing girls' education closer to the standard of boys. The political gain
was the Married Women's Property Acts, which meant that, even after they married,
women had the right to manage, control, convey by her self-will the properties that
she had before her marriage or the ones obtained while she was married. In the same
year, at Buffalo, women also received the right to vote. Parents could afford to pay
for higher education for their daughters, who heaved colleges for women, the roles
were expanded, achieving their careers. In 1952 was translated and published in
United States The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, work which focuses on the
woman's treatment through out history, talking also about them as 'feminine
The second wave feminism continued fighting for equal rights in the early
1970s. The major book written under these circumstance was The Feminine Mystique
in 1963 by Betty Friedan, subject that names herself the problem that has no
name(Marsella, Handbook of international Feminism, p. 39). She focuses on
women's oppression, the old feminism of equal rights for women and radical
feminism, that considers men an oppressive group and women should be separated of
them because there would not be neutrality. She started this book by interviewing


unhappy house wives. Despite their having the material part, money, fortune,
properties, they do not miss anything tangible, they are married, they have children,
but they are still unhappy. At this point it becomes perceptible the lack of career
opportunity in women's life and the lack of intellectual opportunities, cultural life.
Friedan (Marsella, Handbook of International Feminism, p. 39) notices these and
concludes that this kind of woman needs to have her own rights, needs to feel secure
and educated. She discovers also that part of these women who are unaware of their
At about the same time, Women and Madness by Chesler and Sexual politics
by Miller are published, both focusing on this topic. Psychology relates to feminist
ideas and in 1969 in United States an organized feminist psychology began, which
also contributed to the struggle. There were Some cultural feminists argue for the
development of separate spaces for women only (Marsella, Handbook of
International Feminisms, p. 40) to eliminate the oppression of women. This meant
that they did not struggle only for gender equality, but also to create a special
condition just for women. Cultural feminists view women's experiences as distinct
from men's and envision a transformation of society based on women's unique
strengths.(Marsella, Handbook of International Feminisms, p. 40) This aspect
reveals that women have a certain strength, their power adding to the development of
society, women being multilateral have a larger view on things and situations.
The third wave of feminism is also named postfeminism. The third wave is
also represented by magazines like Bitch, Bust self objectification, violence against
women's health issues and the intersectionality of identity are important topics of
investigation in contemporary United States feminist psychology that have been
influenced by the third wave of feminism.(Marsella, Handbook of International
Feminism, p. 42) In popular culture we could name Spice Girls or Madonna as
postfeminist influences. The main postfeminist writers are Virginia Woolf, Dorothy
Richardson, Emily Bronte and Charlotte Bronte. Naomi Wolf's publications occur at
the same time with the contemporary women's movement In Fire with Fire, Wolf
argue that feminism has for the most part failed to recognize, much less capitalize on,
its gains.(Gamble, The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfeminism, p.
40) Germaine Greer says that the future is the female, but relating to feminism If


you believe, as I do, that to be a feminist is to understand that before you are of any
race, nationality, religion, party or family, prestige and economic power of the
majority of women in the world as a direct consequence of western hegemony must
concern you.(Greer as qtd by Gamble, The Routledge Companion to Feminism and
Postfeminism p. 42)
Faludi states about Postfeminism that it is the backlash Faludi attempts to
unmask postfeminism as a wolf in a sheep's clothing. (Faludi as qtd by Gamble, The
Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfeminism, p. 38). Faludi expresses how
vulnerable a woman can be. The patriarchal system had bad effects on so many
females that they got to commit suicide. To live under these circumstances is not at
all easy, and there is a moment when the psychic gives in, especially in the case of
delicate women, and they get to this crucial moment when the chance of escaping
their oppressed condition is suicide.
But one of the Indian feminist leaders, Madhu Kishar proposes several ways
of reducing a woman's vulnerability, such ensuring that a daughter is not excluded
from her father's property, and family investing in the education and careers of
daughters as well as sons, so that women will have the means to walk out of a
difficult marriage and lead independent lives. (Gamble, The Routledge Companion
to Feminism and Postfeminism, p. 60) In traditional India a woman is dependant on
the father or husband. The women of any Indian house are always trimly, well
dressed (as well as they would be at a special event) because they should be always
beautiful for their husbands and for the pride of their family. It is said that women are
also vulnerable to communication technology, and men are identified with culture
and science, whereas women with nature and intuition. But I do not agree with Judy
Wajcman, when she says women could be better at intuition and be persons who are
closer to nature, but as well women could be passionate about science and could have
performance in this domain. Onwards she says that 'men give birth' to science and
weapons to compensate for their lack of the 'magic power' of giving birth to babies'.
(Gamble, The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfeminism p. 67) And this
quotation might have its own reality, because naturally men could not give birth but
they make, create something else, something more pragmatic or materialistic.


Literature was regnant of male authors, but the wave of American and English
women writers began with important authors like George Eliot, Jane Austen, Emily
Bront, Charlotte Bront and Virginia Woolf. Many feminist critics argued that, in
canonical texts, women were usually represented as a port of a crude sexual binary:
they were virgins or whores. By and large, the whores came to miserable ends, and
the virgins got married.(Gamble, The Routledge Companion to Feminism and
Postfeminism, p. 103) But also the virgins could get whores if they assert
vulnerability, or get to be whores only because the society blames them as happens
with Hester Prynne, or after they got had married as virgins, had a family life with
children, betrayed their husbands and, of course firstly society is the one who blames
and calls them 'whores' - two such examples from fiction works are Emma Bovary,
Anna Karenina. As an example from French literature, we have the famous work
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856, 1994), French feminism is concerned
with the 'feminine' as a category of discourse, a definition constructed in language,
philosophy, psychoanalysis and elsewhere.(L. Madsen, Feminist Theory and
Literary Practice, p. 18) French feminism exists in every possible domain. It does
not stop at the word feminism, it incorporates in literature, psychoanalysis and
others, it simply passes over the limit of being a social wave.
Women need to fulfil their personal and national destinies, but they also need
to fulfil the spiritual destiny of humanity and it is men who have historically placed
obstacles in their way... (L. Madsen, Feminist Theory and Literary Practice, p. 5)
Madsen reveals since the beginning that the patriarchal system was an oppression for
women, a culture about which we could sincerely state that it manipulated women
because men control the economic structure of life, women must please men in
order to survive. There is no realistic alternative for them, save madness and death.
(Madsen, Feminist Theory and Literary Practice, p. 42). Being dependant of
someone, especially economically, is like a tragedy; it is like a road full of clogs.
Women were so busy in their daily life that they had no time to speak with someone
about their problems, (whether social or cultural) The shortage of staff in the
traditionally female-dominated professions such as nursing and teaching was critical,
while a women pursued the idea image of the American suburban housewife: 'freed
by science and labour-saving appliances from the drudgery, the dangers of childbirth


and the illness of her grandmother. She was healthy, beautiful, educated, concerned
only about her husband, her children, her home. She had found true feminine
fulfilment'. (Madsen, Feminist Theory and Literary Practice, p. 44-45) With every
step that had made the feminists they tried to allocate the status of independent
women. Feminist criticism...must be revolutionary (Madsen, Feminist Theory and
Literary Practice, p. 73) to win the battle, to achieve their purpose, the creation of
'new woman'.
French philosopher and feminist, Simone de Beauvoir expresses in The Second
Sex her idea about woman, her condition, her role
Woman is well placed to describe society, the world, the
epoch to which she belongs, but only up to a certain point.
Truly great works are those that put the world entirely in
question. Now that woman doesnt do. She will critique, she
will contest in detail; but to put the world completely into
question one must feel oneself to be profoundly responsible
for the world. Now she isnt to the extent that its a world of
men; she doesnt take charge in the way the great artist does.
She doesnt radically contest the world, and this is why in the
history of humanity there isnt a woman who has created a
great religious or philosophical system, or even a truly great
ideology; for that, whats necessary is in some sense to do
away with everything thats given [faire table rase de tout le
donn]as Descartes did away with all knowledgeand to
start afresh. Well, woman, by reason of her condition, isnt in
a position to do that. (Bauer, Simone de Beauvoir, p. 46)
Simone de Beauvoir analyses women's condition, treatment, status through out
history, she investigated womanhood, but she recognized that the idea of writing The
Second Sex came to her lately. The Second Sex was published in France in 1949
meanwhile the second wave feminism had already started. One of the book's roots
was the fact that French women gained the right to vote in 1944, and the work was
published five years later. Simone de Beauvoir began to work on The Second Sex
while French women were pressured by society, by the ambient and patriarchal


system to become wives and mothers. In these times contraception and abortion were
illegal. The contraception finally became legal in France in 1967 for the calmness of
many women and abortion became legal in 1974. There were some factors which
delayed the granting of votes for women. Here is the exact time delimited by de
Beauvoir during the German occupation of France during the Second World War
the provisional French government ... introduced stringent measures that further
circumscribed woman's autonomy... (Tidd, Simone de Beauvoir, p. 50)
But she confesses that the idea of writing this study came to her lately and she
realized that she could not begin to write without bearing on herself. She asked
herself the question what is a woman? and to her the answer was 'I am', so she had
to have a parallel between herself and the rest of women. The idea of The Second
Sex came to me very late. Men or women, I thought that each could handle their own
problems by them- selves; I wasnt aware that femininity is a situation. I wrote three
novels, some essays, without worrying myself about my condition as a woman. One
day, I had a desire to explain myself to myself. I began to reflect and I became aware
with a sort of surprise that the first thing I had to say was this: I am a woman.
(Beauvoir as qtd. by Bauer, Simone de Beauvoir, p. 42-43) Anyway she did not call
herself feminist, only late after her publication, in the late 1960's.
Beauvoir analyses the women's situation in two different ways, in different
situations, using specific concepts. One is the woman as the absolute other, and the
other alternative explains that feminity is constructed. The Second Sex is structured
in two volumes, the first one named Facts and Myth. As the title suggests, Beauvoir
started from myths about woman and true facts that changed women's destiny. The
second volume is named Woman's Life Today. She started her work from the early
times of women and finishes in her contemporary time frame. Beauvoir clearly
points out that a woman in most cases, is like the man wants. Here is obvious
women's subjugation Women are still, for the most part, in a state of subjection. It
follows that woman sees herself and chooses herself not insofar as she exists for
herself [pour soi] but as man defines her. So we must first describe her as men dream
her, since her being-for-men is one of the essential factors of her concrete condition.
(Bauer, Simone de Beauvoir, p. 200) She focused on aspects as how feminity was
conceptualized and how women 'became' relative beings in patriarchal society, as


woman would be hanged by the father, husband or brother. She also develops the
idea that woman has a marginalized position in society, that womanhood is
absolutely representative of this isolation, far away from reality, culture and law.
Simone de Beauvoir encouraged intellectual, cultural and economical
ascending of the woman. No one has a good explanation why woman in those times
was named the Other I deny that they establish for her [woman] a fixed and
inevitable destiny. They are insufficient for setting up a hierarchy of the sexes; they
fail to explain why woman is the Other; they do not condemn her to remain in this
subordinate role forever. (Bauer, Simone de Beauvoir, p. 202), but she explains this
Other as not fully human (Bauer, Simone de Beauvoir, p. 44). That era considered
the woman as weaker, with lower capacities and so on. From the biological point of
view she is considered to be primacy, because she is capable to gave birth to the
children, as our author says further on woman are biologically destined for the
repetition of Life (Bauer, Simone de Beauvoir, p. 203), having almost the same idea,
the woman's capacity to give birth.
The second volume opens with the phrase One is not born, but rather
becomes, a woman (Beauvoir as qtd by Bauer, Simone de Beauvoir, p. 51), which
alludes to gender identity.
Patriarchal society traditionally value woman's reproductive capacity more
than her intellectual development or autonomy. (Tidd, Simone de Beauvoir, p. 52)
This happens because people around them not believe that women were capable of
something more, they grew with the conception that women should give birth to the
children, be part of what they called generically 'womanhood' and just that. Beauvoir
admits that there are some differences between women and men, but they are few
and insignificant. But she continues claiming equal freedom between women and
men. Her study proves that society has been organized in favour of male's projects
and aspirations. Every new concept, job, idea has nearby a male person. The
requirements are tending to define men as the perfect candidates or the close one for
doing that job. This means that women were obliged to adapt to the patriarchal
society by the circumstances. What some women tried to do, or what they should
have done was to pursue economic independence trough independent work. This
would have solved the status of being dependent on someone.


In the chapter entitled Facts and Myths, Beauvoir states that They [women]
have no past, no history, no religion of their own... (Tidd, Simone de Beauvoir, p.
54). She got to this conclusion after many observations that she makes on women.
Women were viewed by men just as simple 'instruments of exchange'. Nowadays we
would feel more than offended on hearing this; but even back then from my point of
view, it was an insult addressed to women by some men. Men could only afraid on
someone's dignity for getting higher. It is a universal subject that woman still the
Other for the men, just because she is considered to have no past, no history and no
religion. Men considered them only simple objects that surrounded them. Beauvoir
focuses on biology to demonstrate that women are not so weak as they are believed
to be, because time shows that women were like slaves for their species.
If we get the life story from the beginning girls and boys were treated the same
they behaved in the same way as the gender permitted, but the problem appeared
later. There is no difference in attitudes of girls and boys during the first three or
four years. Both try to perpetuate the happy condition that preceded weaning...
(Bauer, Simone de Beauvoir, p. 212) The gender discrimination appears in childhood,
because of the parents who accept and of the girls who involuntarily create the
problem themselves. Girls are more privileged than boys, and further boys become
independent of adult, while girls continue to use tricks and cheat to obtain what they
want(while boys do not).
In a speech made by Simone de Beauvoir, we find out she ascertained that
woman is well placed to describe society, the world, the epoch to which she
belongs, but only up to a certain point. (as qtd. By Bauer, Simone de Beauvoir, p.
65) But why impose limits on her? Why not let her demonstrate that she is capable of
doing more? And she demonstrated this centuries on. At the end of her work, the
author takes the opportunity to also show us the blueprint of today woman, the
independent woman the independent woman of today is torn between the
professional interests and the problems of her sexual life; it is difficult for her to
strike a balance between two; if she does, it is at the price of concession and
sacrifices which require her to be in a constant state of tension. (Tidd, Simone de
Beauvoir, p. 68). Which also means that trying to be you is like a permanent struggle,
being under uncertainty, as fighting between good and evil. Beauvoir also gives us


the solution to the femininity problem women must strive to become economically
independent and work together to gain political analysis of their situation so they can
challenge it. (Tidd, Simone de Beauvoir, p. 68); which means women joining forces
because more persons are more powerful than a few, as she said that being united
and persevering we would manage to do it.
Simone de Beauvoir was indeed one of the first women in this century to
remind us of the extent of women's exploitation, and to encourage every women who
had the good fortune to come across her book to feel less isolated and more certain
about not being oppressed or letting herself be taken in. (Bauer, Simone de
Beauvoir, p. 13-14) She focuses on analyzing women problems, behaviour and
context but she also gave them support by finding solutions.
Another well-known great feminist is Hlne Cixous, she emerged in France
during the Second Wave Feminism. Cixous was interested and focused on the sexual
differences. In 1975 she published The Newly Born Woman, work which debates the
problem by binary oppositions, the good qualities being attached to men and the bad
ones to women, such as: active/passive, logos/pathos, and civilization/nature. All of
these create the way to criture fminine. This collocation is translated in English
by feminine writing or writing the body. This type of writing is expressed by
ambiguities, gaps and so on. To sum up, the criture fminine is an experimental
type of writing practiced by both women and men. This type of work is marked by a
sense of pleasure, excess. The criture fminine has captivated the attention of
certain authors who 'experimented' with this type of writing, as Cixous, Virginia
Woolf, James Joyce or Jean Ganet.
Virginia Woolf argues that women have struggled with formidable
educational, financial and social obstacles which have prevented from creating great
works of literature (Tidd, Simone de Beauvoir, p. 95) Woolf revealed that women
were kept isolated from writing because of the social system and people's traditional
beliefs. Virginia Woolf also said that women would not be gifted to begin writing till
they solved the problem of privacy and freedom, they needed space of their own to
be able to work, named A Room of One's Own published in 1929, and 500 years - the
period women needed for writing. Woolf's opinion was that women were suited for
writing fiction. A Room of One's Own revealed the disadvantages that women had to


confront, unlike men, the material disadvantages, and simply the female experience
of writing. Virginia Woolf had another great work on the feminist subject, named
Profession for Women, essay in which she spoke about women writers and her own
The 'new feminism' wave also had at its centre also Maggie Humm, who wrote
about the status of being a woman. Her work is entitled Feminisms and was
published in 1992. The feminist Kate Millet analyses males' images of women in the
context of history, society, and literature. She focuses on gender and sex in her work
Sexual Politics. Returning to the second feminist wave, in the 1960s, 1970s, the
current of Marxist feminism, we find out that it ignored much of women's experience
and activity. Marxism concentrated on gender and production terms. The second
term defined womanhood as working in a factory. The French feminism has
influenced by psychoanalysis. French feminism was marked by Kristeva, Cixous and
Irigaray. For example Kristeva explained women's situation by using the opposite
terms 'closed' and 'open'. Closed is the state in which women lived, they were
limited by patriarchal society and so on, and open - because they needed to start a
new way of life, open minded, with a large view on everything.
Feminists have shown that the theoretical and practical exclusion of women
from the universalist public is no mere accident or aberration. The ideal of the civic
public unity, and necessitates the exclusion of aspects of human existence that
threaten to disperse the brotherly unity of straight and upright forms, especially the
exclusion of women. (Benhabib, Young, Feminism as Critique, p. 59)


Chapter 2. Affinities and Differences between Emma Bovary

and Hester Prynne

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and The Scarlet Letter by

Nathaniel Hawthorne both tangentially touch the feminist point of view with the idea
of evolving, progressing. The main theme they have in common is the sinful and
condemnable dimension of adultery. The concept of adultery is a universally known
one, but it can bee seen as the result of womens oppression. Any woman is born to
grow in diversity and she wants to get to a certain aim, a personally set goal in her
life. A woman is as creative as a man can be, doing nothing and getting bored is not a
life occupation, because there could appear some unpleasant things, in our case the
temptation to sin. A woman is born with maternal feelings and she also needs to have
someone near her soul, to understand and encourage her, someone to give her the
appropriate advice when she needs it, or simply to be there, next to her. We are
human beings, and everyone needs emotional attachment. Female literary characters
Emma (the protagonist of Flauberts novel) and Hester (the female protagonist of
Hawthornes novel) were feeling lonely; although Emma had her husband near
physically, he wasnt there for her in other respects. Whereas Hester thought that her
husband was dead, she knew that she was a widow.
In a patriarchal society men could be said to destroy women's lives,
character, way of living, mind, behaviour, voluntarily or involuntarily. They
misunderstand womens problems and feelings, or they just do not think of them as
human beings, just as simply womanhood or simple work entities. Initially women
were complacent with their situation, nowadays there can also be found cases of
women not struggling for their own welfare because they got used to the idea of
being managed by men, society, others, just not by themselves; in our case-study
Hester and Emma did not get used to the idea of being under mens control, under
societys word. They wanted to rise by firstly proving themselves and also that they
could live an independent life intellectually and economically, without any outside
help. Hawthores character, Hester, bravely demonstrated that she could manage

without a mans help, she earned her own money by crafting fancy objects and
raising her daughter, Pearl, in an appropriate way.
Whereas Emma wanted her intellectual independence more than anything,
she did not take so much care of her daughter. Flauberts female protagonist firstly
wanted to have a gallant position in the high society of that time, and to a certain
extent she tried to experiment in her own life everything she had read in the books
she used to read. She was an avid reader, but she was extremely sad that she had no
one to share with everything she read. Maybe she could have made some money out
of this habit is she had seriously begun writing. She had a passion for reading since
early age when she used to read secretly well known novels at that time. We could
tell that she was feeding by reading, she was feeding her mind and her soul by
keeping reading. Emma wanted to have the same access in the society as men do,
they wanted do. She wanted to take part to the cultural life, cultural events, festivals,
and the biggest wish of her was to take part to the balls regularly. She tasted from
this type of life, from the aristocracy, she knew that she could have it forever, but she
did not follow the appropriate way. The little bourgeoisie seemed to annoy her, the
mediocrity in which she had to be complacent was grievous, and hard to support it.
She wanted to be up to the ropes with every social and cultural movement that would
follow in that little town, in that area. Emma liked to be surrounded by people and to
socialize. Whereas, fortunately or unfortunately, Emma had a double life, she also
lived in her own world, she kept dreaming. There everything was possible, as in the
books that she read. At a certain moment she tried to do the things as in the book
happened, but there was not the same, there was not happy and so on, there were just
problems and again problems. Emma felt extremely the absence of someone to
socialize. Here inverts Leon and Rodolphe.
The sin is imminent and the truth found out at any second. In the beginning
Emma will hide her relationship with the other man, now the life from books she
reads has become her reality; she secretly meets her 'lover/s'. But in Hesters case,
the truth surfaces from the very start. The only thing that she does not ever confess is
the name of the man who is also guilty of their shared sin.
Whereas we have the capacity for logical reasoning, we are actually humans
prone to make mistakes; it is in our nature to be wrong about something at a certain


moment, but there are many kinds of mistakes: small, inoffensive ones and big ones.
Unfortunately, in these cases, our heroines committed one of the most serious sins that of adultery. Then the correction follows, each character receives her punishment
depending on the personal environment created by the author in each novel. The
punishment for their sins are placed by the two authors in the social environment
they were placed, the other characters surrounding and interacting with them, the
time-span of the happened facts, their destiny and their luck. in the luck factor is
important because it is found in our stories (as in almost every story), and nowadays
also one should have a little luck to manage doing something.
The restrictive religious beliefs are more obvious in the punishment context
as all the written laws are applied, maybe more harshly than before. Emma's case
could be seen as a self punishment because it was too difficult for her to live after she
consciously saw what she had done. Nothing is worse than taking a retrospective
look and seeing how wrong you had acted, what damage you had caused, and the
suffering you had produced to others, including yourself. Unfortunately Emma does
not find her courage to dare bravely the future. Facing the reality she was a weak
person. Her soul was weak, she did not find the necessary powers to pull herself
together and go on. After years of suffering, because she had a limited a cultural and
social life, she eventually gave in and committed suicide, in a terrifying way:
poisoning. She died a slow, agonising death probably thinking that she would finally
escape all the problems she had had. But there remained a child that needed the care
of a mother.
Emma was not punished by the others as Hester had been, but by herself.
Hawthornes character, Hester, was punished by the Puritan society - a strict,
unforgiving and cruel organization. Puritans did not agree under any circumstance to
having in the sect sinners or unpunished persons. They were not declined the
punishing rigour of their strict laws. But their ways of punishing were too cruel, they
also used to kill the guilty person. She had to choose between running away, which
was not a good option of escaping, or staying and conforming with the punishment.
For these kinds of problems feminists struggled and fought throughout the years. She
went to prison although pregnant, then she was symbolically exiled by the people
from her community, she therefore lived isolated, at the margin of the town, and


when she encountered people in her way, not even was not treated respectfully, but
The child came as a salvation. They only had to know how to manage this
singular important opportunity. The destiny gave them the chance to recognize that
they were sorry and they wanted to be forgiven. But for Emma, as for a philosopher
or artist, creation and the cultural life were more important. Yes, she also deserved
admiration as she wanted women to be involved in cultural events. She struggled as
hard as she could to surpass her moral and social condition not to be just a
representative of womanhood and only that. She dreamed to become an aristocrat
because this way she thought she would have access to everything. But the Flauberts
novel did not include the same end in her case, too; the books that she used to read
were a secondary world for her, and she wanted that to be the main, real world.
Despite her daily struggles, she did not manage to transform her life as she wanted.
Men gave her hopes believing that everything was possible with them, but they
ended abandoning her. Emma clung onto a false hope, the lover had promised her the
moon and the stars, not her baby who bring get her comfort, sunny days, and the
happiness of motherhood. She chose the option she believed would bring her the
desired happiness. Emma thought that running was the best solution, running away
with her lover and beginning a new life somewhere else at his side, but it was not
like she had planned. Every step was carefully established, but when the targetmoment arrived, the lover disappeared and so did Leon, and the same happened in
the case of Rodolphe. Because a single attempt was not enough, she repeated the
experience with another so called lover to prove herself that she could never escape
the limited space in which she lived.
Hester Prynne gathered all her forces and managed to go on, although she
was considered the symbol of the sin in that community. She had a daughter, whom
she did not love from the beginning. Hawthornes female protagonist got angry many
times because of Pearl, who was considered the child of the sin, but the mother
finally got used to her and began to love her. She could not abandon the child,
although she had the option. Hester felt that this wouldn't be good, she listened to her
heart and it proved to be a good choice.


The reverse case can be found in Flauberts character, Emma, she listened
and followed her heart and she lost. Emma seemed to hate her daughter, her maternal
feelings did not manifest even after giving birth to little Pearl. She had rather given
her baby to someone else to raise her. In fact, she was not prepared to assume the
role of a mother, she was too young and still affected by the intellectual situations
she encountered and never actually managed to solve. Hester was envied more by the
others when she was seen with the impertinence she was manifesting when in the
community, having an active daily life and managing to be a so called trader. She
had something coming from within which gave her power to do everything necessary
in order to manage. Finally, she received some respect from the community. She was
brave in everything she had done and so she earned everything, even the respect she
When reading feminist novels and a lot about the feminist waves in the entire
world, we can find previous strugglers on this battlefield as Marry Wollstonecraft,
then theoreticians as Kate Millett, Shulamith Firestone, Naomi Woolf, or French
critics like Simone de Beauvoir, Helene Cixous, or Raman Selden. I have stopped
and lingered on my favourite novels on this theme, Madame Bovary by Gustave
Flaubert (2001) and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1999). So far, I
think these are my favourite novels because they are the first volumes that I read on
this topic.

2.1. Emma's Struggle for Cultural and Social Rights

Madame Bovary was published in 1857 and was the debut novel of Gustave
Flaubert, it was and still is considered a great work of the nineteenth century. The
novel was written between 1851 and 1856 with painstaking, and it became Flaubert's
hallmark. In his work Flaubert was inspired by the French Revolution of 1789 and
the reign of Napoleon, when the collapse of aristocracy makes way for a new middle
class, the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie was made of merchants and capitalists.
Flaubert was part of the educated elite of that time, and here he finds the lack of style


and taste, a sort of moral conservatism. He was not delighted by these aspects and so
he attacked the merchant class in the novel Madame Bovary and also in Sentimental
Education (1869). He not only criticized the middle class, but also manifested
against romanticism. The realist wave was the new style which replaced the romantic
idealism. Realism focused on the harsh and unforgiving realities of life. Other French
realist writers were Stendhal and Honor de Balzac, and English writers as Thomas
Hardy and George Eliot. But romanticism is also present in Madame Bovary, but the
author treats it with irony.
When the first series appeared in La Revue de Paris, the novel was
attacked for obscenity, for offending the decency of society and of the public. When
it was published in a single volume in 1857 and after Flaubert was discharged,
Madame Bovary became a bestseller, and nowadays it is still considered a
masterpiece of French literary realism. The word adultery which defines Emma
Bovary is used also inside the lines, being a realist subject, it is also found in Russian
novelist Lev Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, but, paradoxically enough, we do not find it
in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter, where readers can easily grasp the subject
but it is not explicitly specified.
In Madame Bovary, Flaubert took a commonplace of story of
adultery and made of it a book that has continued to be read
because of its profound humanity. Emma Bovary is a bored and
unhappy middle-class wife whose general dissatisfaction with
life leads her to act out her romantic fantasies and embark on an
ultimately disastrous love affair. She destroys her life by
embracing abstractions - passion, happiness - as concrete
realities. She ignores material reality itself, as symbolized by
money and is inexorably drawn to financial ruin and suicide.
(Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature, p. 710)
Flaubert publicly admits that 'Madame Bovary c'est moi' (which, in a literal
translation means Madame Bovary is me), that is to say his representation, a part of
him behaves like her. But we also find out that his fathers personality is transcribed
in that of doctor Larivier.


After Flauberts heroine tastes from the best life can give her, she wants it
for ever. It is also cruel for a woman who reads to stay and limit forever. She knows
that she could have the best so she does everything to have it, just not do it in the
proper way. Unfortunately for her, she is supposed to have a standard conservative
life ruled by the man of the house, at the beginning the father, then the husband.
Because she has an important status in the society of those times, being the doctor's
wife, she has to behave accordingly. Maybe this kind of status contributed to her
destruction, not only her harsh life.
The name of Flauberts heroine, Emma, means an individual woman with a
certain, distinct history, that she is not like any other woman, she is different. But the
word Madame, a married persons appellation is the name bestowed to woman who
entered the institution of marriage in those times. Emma is not the perfect or the
standard type of character, but she is worthy of admiration because she has the
courage to evolve, and she does not know correctly how because of the patriarchal
system which destroyed many destinies.
Emma grew up in an abbey of women and the only pleasure she could afford
was to secretly read novels; therefore after getting married she mostly lived in the
fictional world the books provided for her, and not in her own reality
And Emma tried to find out what one meant exactly in life by
the words felicity, passion, rapture, that had seemed to her so
beautiful in books. (Madame Bovary, p. 27, emphases mine)
She lived daydreaming, she was not able to see the reality, or maybe she just would
not accept it. She married young a man much older than her, and she escaped from a
glass bell and entered another. She lived calmly for a while after her marriage,
continuing to read her novels and being the woman in the house, but she did nothing
because she was Madame,
Accustomed to calm aspect of life, she turned, on the contrary, to
those of excitement. She loved the sea only for the sake of its
storms, and the green fields only when broken up by ruins. She
wanted to get some personal profit out of things, and she rejected
as useless all that did not contribute to the immediate desires of
her heart, being of a temperament more sentimental than artistic,


looking for emotions, not for landscapes. (Madame Bovary, p.

Since the episode of the ball, where she met many important persons, and she loved
this type of glamorous life, so she wanted to keep it forever hosting special parties,
being well dressed in fashionable clothes and so on The memory of this ball, then,
became an occupation for Emma. (Madame Bovary, p. 43). She kept dreaming of
the ball night, and hoped that soon she would have a new opportunity to participate
at a ball. She created scenes of how it would be if she went to another event of such
importance, imagining who would be present, where the event would be held, how it
would unfold, about what participants would be discussing and so on. ...thinking
that perhaps the marquis d'Andervilliers would give another ball at Vaubyessard
(Madame Bovary, p. 48). She places all her wishes/hopes in him. The only improper
fact in her situation is that she gave up music. Music was another of her passions,
playing the piano. Because of the sadness, she became ill of intellectual and cultural
isolation. In this instance appears the weak part of a woman encountered in the
feminist waves; i.e., women were considered weak because they used to be guided
by feelings in making decisions. In fact, Emmas illness is a psychological one, cruel
sadness, but it transforms into a biological weakness. This first step in the giving up
process I consider to be an anti-model. In this situation she represents the
powerlessness of woman.
She took up in La Corbeille, a lady journal, and the Sylphe des
Salons... She knew the latest fashions, the addresses of the best
tailors, the days of the Bois and the Opera. In Eugene Sue she
studies descriptions of furniture; she read Balzac and George
Sand in them imaginary satisfaction for her own desires.
(Madame Bovary, p. 44-45)
Here is the perfect example of the woman who wants to escape the lacks and
limitations patriarchy forces her to obey. The intellectual ascending of which Simone
de Beauvoir spoke prove to be a preoccupation the Flauberts heroine as she
encourages and pursues this intensely; unfortunately we do not find Emmas desire
of economic independence. She does not stop reading a cooking book, or at all, she
turns reading into her passion.


Emma nourishes, feeds her mind and soul by reading good books, good
authors, such as Balzac and George Sand, and she does not renounce this satisfaction
even if people around her try to convince her to abandon it. the character has to fight
that times outlook on reading - considered a waste of time or foolishness. Emma's
huge disappointment was that there was no person with whom she could discuss
about her reading experience. At the end of the day when her husband came home
she would be so enthusiastic if she had talked to him about what she had been read
during the day. Reading and not debating, fructifying, sharing with the supposedly
loved one, makes her sad. Such a piece of information she accumulated when reading
needed to be shared with someone so as to feel completely fulfilled. She needed
someone, a partner, with whom she could discuss her reading experience.
Emma is compared by Jessica Martino with the Eternal feminine of
Simone de Beauvoir, feminine in look, feminine in behaviour and also in
intelligence. She is a womb, as Beauvoir states (The Second Sex, p. 47), the woman
is a womb, Emma is a womb, but one of culture. Moreover, Flauberts heroine is not
born a woman, but she becomes one, according to Beauvoir (The Second Sex, 195).
Women need to have access to the same activities as men do, she feels the need to be
treated similarly. She does not want to be excluded from many social aspects, such as
the annual agricultural reunion or any social problem discussion. As a reaction to
such types of isolation, especially because she no longer attended balls, she did not
get out of her own house, not even in the garden
Emma was growing difficile, capricious. She ordered dishes for
herself, then she did not touch them; one day drank only pure
milk, and the next cups of tea by dozen. Often she persisted in
not going out, then, stifling, threw open the windows and put on
light dresses. After she had well scolded her servant she gave
her presents or sent her out to see the neighbours, just as she
sometimes threw beggars all the silver in her purse, although
she was by no means tender-hearted or easily accessible to the
feelings of others, like most country-bread people, who always
retain in their souls something of the horny of the paternal
hands. (Madame Bovary, p. 51, emphasis mine)


And the result of this isolation was a cruel one, she was too sensitive to problems,
She grew pale and suffered from palpitation of the heart. (Madame Bovary, p. 51)
Her husband believed she was seriously ill, he thought she had an illness which
developed in that area, he was not able to see beyond the symptoms she manifested,
he could not see that the real problem of his wife was simply cultural isolation. She
was an intelligent woman and she would have liked to be treated as such, to have
access to what aristocracy meant, not to get stuck in what bourgeoisie meant back in
those times. Emmas husband, Charles, thought that change of air was needed
(Madame Bovary, p. 52), and that was all. Here we can see how blind a man is, he
thinks only with the mind and not with his soul, too. The man who blames women
that they are sentimental and emotional can not read a person and especially see
what is in the soul of the next person.
Emma waits vainly that her amorous and financial problems would be solved.
When Emma is encouraged by her lovers to do what she really feels, she interprets
this in a wrong way, by allowing herself total freedom and going the wrong way.
They have the power to change her life for better or worse, but the second aspect is
the one who gains terrain, a power that she lacks. She was used to be dependent on
someone, and this dependence was total. She grew up in this type of climate and it
was extremely hard for her to rid herself of life-long habits.
Because the character does not respect moral life, she ends up failing. Trying
to outdo herself, she gets lost in a cruel game deceiving herself firstly, but this is not
an aspect we should focus on in our analysis. Her unhappy marriage is obvious at
each step. She looks for the possibility of escaping from this gloomy contract by
looking out the window; no matter if she followed someone or she expected
something, she disregarded the real scenery and imagined freedom, a freedom she
never felt, and indeed she would never have. For Emma, the windows are the means
of looking into the past, remembering her unhappy life and running off into
daydreaming in order to escape from her way of living.
Emma grew thinner, her cheeks paler, her face longer, with her
black hair, her large eyes, her aquiline nose, her bird- like nose,
her bird-like walk, and always silent now, did she not seem to
be passing through life scarcely touching it, and to bear on her


brow the vague impress of some divine destiny? She was so sad
and so calm, at once so gentle and so reserved, that near her one
felt oneself seized by an icy charm, as we shudder in churches
at the perfume of the flowers mingling with the cold of the
marble. The others even did not escape from this seduction...
The housewives admired her economy, the patients, her
politeness, the poor her charity. (Madame Bovary, p. 81-82)
This description was made when she was in love with Leon. What exasperated her
was that Charles did not seem to notice her anguish. His conviction that he was
making her happy seemed to her an imbecile insult, and his sureness on this point
ingratitude. For whose sake, then, was she virtuous? Was it not for him, the obstacle
to all felicity, the cause of all misery, and, as it were, the sharp clasp of that complex
strap that buckled her in on all sides?" (Madame Bovary, p. 83) She was angry that
Charles behaved as if he were blind, he did not see that Emma was completely
unhappy. They did not behave as a happy couple, and he was sure Emma was happy,
the fact which most annoyed her. They live in completely different worlds; although
they are husband and wife, they do not actually know each other, their pleasures,
thoughts, perception, what they like or dislike, what upsets them or what makes them
glad. They have wrong beliefs about each other. They live in a house as a married
couple, but in fact they do not know each others true character. Everyone has wrong
opinions about the other. Emma considers him an obstacle in her way to fulfil her
felicity. She considers him a barricade in her destiny. How is it possible for that the
man living close to you for years not to actually know you. How could a man make
you suffer in this way, as Emma says, for what all this she feels pushed by
everything around her to keep silent and try to do by herself.
Her own gentleness to herself made her rebel against him.
Domestic mediocrity drove her to lewd fancies, marriage
tenderness to adulterous desires. She would have liked Charles
to beat her, that she might have a better right to hate him, to
revenge herself upon him. She was surprised sometimes at the
atrocious conjunctures that came into her thoughts, and she had
to go on smiling, to hear repeated to her at all hours that she


was happy, to pretend to be happy, to let it be believed.

(Madame Bovary, p. 83)
Her kindness, innocence, and clean soul transformed into the opposite, but she still
acted as if happy. The mediocrity in which she lived brought her to the stage in
which she fell into sin. Rodolphe knew pretty much about women and he figured out
rather quickly Emma's life story. He manages to render an interesting portrait of
Emma, also imagining her future in a different place, surrounded by different
She is very pretty, he said to himself; she is very pretty, this
doctor's wife. Fine teeth, black eyes, a dainty foot, a figure like
a Parisenne's. Where the devil does she come from? Wherever
did this fat fellow pick up?... I think he(Charles) is very stupid.
She is tired of him, no doubt. He has dirty nails, and hasn't
shaved for three days. While he is trotting after his patients, she
sits there darning socks. And she gets bored! She would like to
live in town and dance polkas every evening. Poor little
woman! She is gaping after love like a carp on a kitchen-table
after water. With three words of gallantry she'd adore one, I'm
sure of it. She'd be tender, charming! (Madame Bovary, p. 99)
Rodolphe seemed to know much more about Emma than her husband. He knew
exactly what she liked and disliked, what her actual situation was and how she would
have wanted to be. Rodolphe also feels a little pity for her, but what he most likes
about her is her appearance, she was a beautiful woman not deserving this fate.
She would have liked to live in some old manor-house, like those longwaited chatelains who, in the shade of pointed arches, spent their days leaning on
stone parapets, chin in hand, watching a cavalier with white plume galloping on his
black horse from distant fields. (Madame Bovary, p.99) This kind of life was what
Emma dreamed of after reading Walter Scott, then she fell in love with historical
events. But after reading another genre she was amazed of something else. She
behaved like a child who kept dreaming and did not want to see reality.
Emma was used to a certain kind of life in the years she lived with her father,
and after she got married with Bovary she moved to his place; there she found


disorder, rubbish Then, opening on the yard... a mass of dusty things whose use it
was impossible to guess. (Madame Bovary, p. 25). It could be easily noticed that
there lived a single man with no one to help wit daily household chores, but, in my
opinion, the description of the place was terrifying for her. Initially she says nothing,
she just takes care of the house and garden doing the cleaning and redecorating the
house. Her main worry after seeing those things was what would happen if she were
to die, especially with her bridal flowers.
Emma went upstairs. The first room was not furnished, but in
the second, which was their bedroom, was a mahogany
bedstead in an alcove with red drapery. A shell-box adorned the
chest of drawers, and on the secretary near the window a
bouquet of orange-blossoms tied with white satin ribbons stood
in a bottle. It was a bride's bouquet; it was the other one's. She
looked at it. Charles noticed it; he took it and carried it up to the
attic, while Emma seated in an armchair (they were putting her
things down around her) thought of her bridal flowers packed
up in a bandbox, and wondered, dreaming, what would be done
with them is she were to die. During the first days she occupied
herself in thinking about changes in the house. She took the
shades of the candlesticks, had new wall-paper put up, the
staircase repainted, and seats made in the garden round the
sundial; she even inquired how she could get a basin with
jetting fountain and fishes. Finally her husband, knowing that
she liked to drive out, picked up a second-hand dogcart, which,
with new lamps and a splash board in striped leather, looked
almost like a tilbury. (Madame Bovary, p. 25)
After all these happened Charles was elated, he had never dreamed that this kind of
moment would ever be part of his life. But here they are, the blazes of happiness
which do not change Emma the least. She believed in love, she thought happiness
would come little by little, but it wasn't like that; now she believed she had made a
huge mistake by marrying Charles. In these moments the only thing she wanted to do
was to find out the real meaning of felicity, passion, and rapture - words she found so


beautiful, charming, and real, but these were real only inside the books, not outside
in her life, so she wanted words to be available in her life also.
But the uneasiness of her new position, or perhaps the disturbance caused
by the presence of this man, had sufficed to make her believe that she at last felt that
wondrous passion which, till then, like a great bird with rose-coloured wings, hung in
the splendour of the skies of poesy; and now she could not think that the calm in
which she lived was the happiness she had dreamed. (Madame Bovary, p. 30-31)
She hoped that becoming married would turn out to make her the happiest person in
the world, as the read books predicted. But her social status brought her only worries
and a lot of time to get bored. Her life was ensuing too calmly, with nothing to make
her heart beat alertly or to have enthusiastic sensations, feelings that would certainly
give her the confirmation she was actually happy.
She thought sometimes that, after all, this was the happiest time of her life the honeymoon, as people called it. To taste the full sweetness of it, it would have
been necessary doubtless to fly those lands with sonorous names where the days after
marriage are full of laziness most suave. In post-chaises behind blue silken curtains
to ride slowly up steep roads listening to the song of the postilion re-echoed by the
mountains, along with the bells of the goats and the muffled sound of waterfall; at
the sunset on the shores of gulfs to breathe in the perfume of lemon trees; then in the
evening on the villa terraces above, hand in hand to look at the stars, making plans
for the future. It seemed to her that certain places on earth must bring happiness , as a
plant to the soil, that cannot thrive elsewhere. Why could not she lean over balconies
in Swiss chalets, or enshrine her melancholy in a Scotch cottage, with a husband
dressed in a black velvet coat with long tails, and thin shoes, a pointed hat and frills?
(Madame Bovary, p. 31)
Emma reaches a point when she thinks the happiest moments of her life were
those of her honeymoon. She remembers that then she found out how it was to be
happy, she tasted that feeling once. The moments when you enjoy the landscapes and
every moment of the day have something special. She misses those times when they
looked at the stars and made future plans, those moments which would never come
back. Now she is the classic womanhood who obeys domestic rules. But these do not


make her happy, she needs that certain something else, some activities to make her
feel alive.
When Emma finds out that she is pregnant things gradually changing Emma
at first felt a great astonishment; then was anxious to be delivered that she might
know what it was to be a mother. But no able to spend as much as she would have
liked, to have a swing-bassinette with rose silk curtains, and embroidered caps, in a
fit of bitterness she gave up at looking after the trousseau, and ordered the whole of it
from a village needlewoman, without choosing or discussing anything. Thus she did
not amuse herself with those preparation that stimulate tenderness of mothers, and so
her affection was from the very outset, perhaps, to some extent attenuated.(Madame
Bovary, p. 67) Firstly she seems to change her mind and be amazed, but when she
thinks that she has no money for everything she wanted to offer her child, she made
the preparation quietly, ordering the trousseau from a needlewoman. But she did not
choose anything special, colourful as she wanted, she just ordered them because she
would need them.
A good housewife does not trouble about her appearance. Then she relapsed
into silence. It was the same on the following days; her talk, her manners, everything
changed. She took interest in the housework, went to church regularly, and looked
after her servant with more severity. She took Berthe from nurse. When visitors
called, Felicity brought her in, and Madame Bovary undressed her to show off her
limbs. She declared she adored children; this was her consolation, her joy, her
passion, and she accompanied her caresses with lyrical outbursts which would have
reminded anyone but the Yonville people of Sachette in Notre-Dame de Paris.
(Madame Bovary, p. 81) She seemed to have changed; she retook the role of the
woman in the house and especially the role of mother. She tried to act as if
everything was fine and normal hoping that this way she would accept her child, that
she would grow to love Berthe and 'happily' fit into family life.
With this repeated tinkling the thoughts of the young woman
lost themselves in old memories of her youth and schooldays.
She remembered the great candlesticks that rose above the
vases full of flowers on the altar, and the tabernacle with its
small columns. She would have liked to be once more lost in


the long line of white veils, marked off here and there by the
stiff black hoods of the god sisters bending over their prieDieus. Ay mass on Sundays, when she looked up she saw the
gentle face of the Virgin amid the blue smoke of the rising
incense. Then she was moved; she felt herself weak and quite
deserted, like the down of a bird whirled by the tempest, and it
was unconsciously that she went towards the church, inclined to
no matter what devotions, so that her soul was absorbed and all
existence lost in it. (Madame Bovary, p. 84)
Emma remembered the days when she was at the convent, and she missed those days
and wished they would repeat, she missed everything that had happened back then,
each stage of the day, especially Sunday's phases.
The next day was a dreary one for Emma. Everything seemed to her
enveloped in a black atmosphere floating confusedly over the exterior of things, and
sorrow was engulfed within her soul with soft shrieks such as the winter winds
makes in ruined castles. It was that reverie which we indulge in over things that will
not return, the lassitude that seized you after everything done; that pain, in fine, that
the interruption of every wonted movement, the sudden cessation of any prolonged
vibration, brings on. (Madame Bovary, p. 94) She felt sorrow for the past moments,
not only for the ball, but for the early age, for her childhood, for her father. She knew
that all of these could not be repeated or re-lived ever again. But her sadness had not
stopped here Sometimes she felt faint. One day she even spat blood... (Madame
Bovary, p. 96)
Emma liked to be involved in every show or event of the local community, as
well in agricultural shows. Although she knew nothing about agriculture, she had the
desire to know, to learn more and more; because of this she loved to read and liked to
participate in different types of events. She wanted women to have the same
opportunities men had the chance to have. At this event she was quiet, paying
attention to everything happening around her, she behaved like an apprentice.
Unfortunately she was accompanied by Rodolphe, not by her husband. But
surprisingly enough Rodolphe (her usual lover) creates so beautiful portraits of her
in which she is defined as a goddess.


2.2. A Brief Fore-Conclusion

Flauberts fictional character Emma Bovary violates her society's norms

regarding so-called proper female behaviour because she is dissatisfied living a
middle-class, provincial, married-woman and mother life whose entire universe is
reduced solely to her home, husband, and child. Emma is created by feminist novelist
Flaubert in order to express womens will to power to accomplish more with their
lives; but accomplishing more implicitly means that women will have to violate the
traditional roles of wife and mother cut out for women in a patriarchal society. As
Emma violates these roles and eventually realizes that she will never attain
happiness, she finds that she is unable to function in that society. She therefore
suffers from emotional distress that is mirrored by her behaviour.
Resorting to social construction theory and feminism, one may conclude that
Emma is not solely at fault for her unhappiness. Her society helps her to construct
ideas and notions regarding her sense of self and others that ultimately impede her
ability to function in life.
Emma is a victim of patriarchal society in which women's place is rigidly
confined and virtues of women are reduced to being a good wife and mother, and
these female characters find it difficult to fit themselves into those traditional female
roles, and yet their societies do not allow them to explore other possibilities. But at
the same time their self-destructiveness is also partly due to their own personality.
Thus, in spite of their struggle for self-realization, they all fail to attain their goal
constructively. This B.A. thesis examines why the struggle for self-realization of
these heroines is eventually turned into self-destruction and what literary devices
each author uses in order to accomplish the effect in terms of characterization, plot,
imagery, symbols, and narrative themes?


Chapter 3. Hester's Success as an Independent Woman

3.1. Nathaniel Hawthorne: Biographical Data

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Mass. U.S. He was an
American novelist and short-story writer. His great works are The Scarlet Letter
(1850) and The House of Seven Gambles(1851). An interesting aspect that we find is
that his original name wrote without w, Hathorne, only when he begin to write and
publish he change a little bit his name into Hawthorne.
His ancestor William Hathorne was a magistrate who was a real defender of
Puritan orthodoxy. Here are the roots of inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne. His
entire work focuses on Puritan problems. There is a moment in Hawthorne life when
he wonders about his family decline, while other Salem families are growing pretty
well. He was grown by his mother because his father died when he was a child. He
grew up and he did not consider himself a young man, but he spent years reading and
focused on writing fiction. His gift had been exploited in college when he decided
that his destiny is to become a writer. Around this period had written an amateurish
novel and after graduation he had published some stories, as The Hollow of the Three
Hills and An Old Womans Tale. He did not want to depend of his uncles so he get a
job, even after he sign the contract for the publishing of the first novel, he continue to
have another job because the income was not enough.
By 1842 things began to improve, Hawthorne had sufficient income so he get
married with Sophia Peabody. They rented a mansion about he would speak later in
the essay The Old Manse. In 1845 they returned to Salem because the debts growth.
There he get a job of the Custom House but three years later lost it because of the
political movements. After a few month he focused on creating his masterpiece The
Scarlet Letter. This book brought Hawthorne fame and entitled him one of the best
American novelists. Because he lost his job Hawthorne moved to Lenox where he


began to work on The House of the Seven Gables. The House of the Seven Gables is
about a study of a hereditary sin that affected Hawthorne's family by a woman
condemned to death. At Lenox he get friend with Herman Melville.
Then in 1851 Hawthorne and his family moved in West Newton where he
started working on The Blithedale Romance. This book did not produce the income
that they guessed, create a little disappointment. He get a consular job that might
stabilize the family income. In 1857 when he ended up his job, decided to spend
some time in Italy. Here he get the idea of writing another romance. He returned in
England and produced The Marble Faun. This novel talks about some American arts
students that were expatriated in Italy that become involved in the murder of a man.
Returned in Wayside in 1860 he devoted entirely to writing but there was nothing
successful. There were just a lot of drafts. He died in sleep when was on a trip
searching for health, in May 19, 1864 Plymouth.
The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850 by Nathaniel Hathorne, the 'w' in
the writer's last name being added put only when he began writing, Hawthorne. He
was descendent of a Puritan family; he focused to go back in history till William
Hathorne, and John Hathorne, important figures in this field. He made up this great
work from tales and sketches written much earlier, thirteen years before he started
working to this novel. The theme of Puritans is a frequently encountered one in his
works, but, in Scarlet Letter it is expressed at its best. The American's Puritan were a
religious sect who arrived in Massachusetts in the 1630s under the leadership of John
Winthrop, and was well known for the intolerance of opposing to the ideas and
lifestyle. Puritanism was a very strict sect. In 1837 Hawthorne published Endicott
and the Red Cross, where he realizes a brief portrait of Puritan New England. But
there was found another paper, some entry, in which he contemplates about how it
would be the life for a woman in the olds colony, who is forced to wear the letter A,
as the sign of the sin, by having committed adultery.
It is in his use of symbols in The Scarlett Letter that Hawthorne has made
one of his most distinctive and significant contributions to the growth of American
fiction. Indeed, this book is usually regarded as the first symbolic novel to be written
in the United States. (Carey, The Scarlet Letter, Notes, p. 50)


3.2. The Scarlett Letter - a Feminist Close Reading

The Scarlet Letter envisages Puritan society and the past-present

By the mid-nineteenth century, American writers were beginning to
explore the erotic and its moral implications. Nathaniel Hawthorne's
The Scarlet Letter was an instant success because in handled
spiritual and moral issues from a uniquely American point of view.
Lewis notes that the novel was originally charge with 'perpetrating
bad morals', even though Hawthorne 'could not have handled the
material more carefully', reiterating the sentiment that sexual urges
lead to immortality and moral decay. However, because Hawthorne
was well established in the New England literary community, his
potentially risqu novel was not censored and passed into the realm
of appropriate texts. (Womack, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of
New American Reading, p. 341)
Hawthorne describes the protagonist of his novel (The Scarlet Letter) as a young
woman, with no mean share of beauty, whose doom it was to wear the letter A on the
breast of her grown, in the eyes of all the world and her own children. And even her
own children knew what the initial signified. Sporting with her infamy, the lost and
desperate creature had embroidered the fatal token in scarlet cloth, with golden
thread and the nicest art of needlework; so that the capital A might have been thought
to mean Admirable, or anything rather than Adulteress. (Hawthorne, Scarlet Letter,
p. VIII) This young woman that he describes here looks like Hester Prynne a lot.
Because she herself wears the capital A as if in honour, scarlet embroidered by her
own hands.
The novel is set in a village in Puritan New England. The
main character is Hester Prynne, a young woman who has
borne an illegitimate child. Hester believes herself a widow,
but her husband, Roger Chillingworth returns to New
England very much alive and conceals his identity. He finds


his wife forced to wear the Scarlet Letter A on her dress as a

punishment for her adultery. Chillingworth becomes obsessed
with finding the identity of his wife's former lover. When he
learns that the father of Heater's child is Arthur Dimmesdale,
a saintly young minister who is the leader of these exhorting
her to name the child's father, Chillingworth proceeds to
torment the guilt - stricken young man. In the end
Chillingworth is morally degraded by his monomaniacal
pursuit of revenge; Dimmesdale is broken by his own sense
of guilt, and he publicly confesses his adultery before dying
in Hester's arms. Only Hester can face the future bravely, as
she plans to take her daughter Pearl to Europe to begin a new
life. (Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature, p.
998-999, my emphasis)
In this case also, our heroine has a good social statute: her husband is a businessman,
so she has a financial condition, she does not care about anything from this point of
view. But although she has almost anything material, she misses her husband; she
misses someone to fill the empty spot in her sentimental life. Feminist theoreticians
also speak about this problematic, of being economically fulfilled, and not
sentimentally fulfilled. Women are not happy with half measures in these conditions.
You have to have a stone heart to live happily without taking these aspects of our
daily, usual life into account. But she recognizes her sin, admits it, she accepts the
punishment without saying a word, she dares life courageously, without taking care
of anything or anyone who tried to convince her to give up. She has power to bridge
everything coming her way maybe her daughter gives her such a force, or we do not
know exactly what, yet, but she is worthy of admiration because she gets on and goes
The human condition which makes way to committing sin is the common
point of the two literary characters in focus, Emma and Hester. Their sin is the one
inherited from Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve's story is similar to the one between
Hester and Dimmesdale's experience, but also of Emma and Leon and then Emma
and Rodolphe. The sin certainly means suffering. Hester managed to be forgotten,


but Emma was weaker and resigned. There are many differences and similarities
between the two and we will develop it further on: 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. (Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 61)
Puritanism is another aspect feminists have struggled with and against along
time, with the strict beliefs of religion. Here, in The Scarlet Letter, Puritanism and
the harsh punishment it inflicts upon people are represented through dramatic scenes.
For example the letter A which Hester must wear on her breast as the sign of the sin
On the breast of the grown, in tine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate
embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A.
(Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 39-40). It is fictionally transcribed that there can
be no argument for this 'sect' to overlook any sin and not prescribe some harsh
Morality and religious values are strictly followed by the Puritan partisans.
To sentence a woman to prison because she got pregnant outside marriage could be
considered more than a punishment. In fact it is Hester's problem that she is pregnant
with someone who is not her husband, not society's problem, not the Puritans'
problem if we think logically. But if you are part of such a sect you are subdued to its
every rule, and if you happen to break it, you suffer the earnest consequences.
The real destiny of a woman is not reduced to the cause and effect relation,
she must have the right to choose what she does with her life, but here is not
attended. She is supposed only to choose between running away or staying and
accepting the punishment. If this happened nowadays we would consider it a fallacy,
a disrespect of a woman's rights, but sincerely I would not be surprised if they were
also nowadays such a communities, maybe not so harsh in ruling, but almost. Yes,
she accepts she is wrong, she assumes her sin, but Hester wants to continue her life
by having the child and trying to get on the best way. Certainly the prison is not a
good home, especially for a child born there, but in the Puritans' view the prison is
the black sheep, the worst thing, the black flower of civilized society (Carey, The
Scarlet Letter, notes, p. 50). Nowadays, prison it is viewed as a place for retrieving


good behaviour. But this woman hasn't killed anyone to get there, the severity of the
Puritanical law was clearly abusive and Hawthorne emphasizes it in the construction
of the protagonist female character.
In its initial form, as a red cloth letter standing for the sin of adultery, that
A is little more symbolic than a man's initials, but Hawthorne makes much more of it
before the books ends. The letter appears in a variety of forms and places. It is the
elaborately gold-embroidered weight on Hester's heart at which Pearl throws wild
flowers. (Carey, The Scarlet Letter, notes, p. 51) Hester tries to adorn her life, her
condition, to show the world that she can surpass without any outside help.
Although she dresses all in black, she takes care of the stigmatizing letter to be
gorgeous, and the little girl is always perfectly dressed; Hester makes her new
dresses and new clothes all the time. She gives proof of loving her daughter and
taking care of her
To the Puritan community is just punishment; to Hester it is a mark of
unjust humiliation; to Dimmesdale, a piercing reminder of his own guilt; to
Chillingworth, a spur to the quest for revenge; to Pearl, a bright and mysterious
curiosity. (Carey, The Scarlet Letter, notes, p. 51) Because the Puritan expressed
their corrections in this way it was not something new, but for Hester it was a cruel
injustice, which she ended by assuming, and does not ever reveal the name of the one
with whom she has sinned. Instead, the father's child, Dimmesdale, runs of guilt, he
conceals from assuming the facts, he is afraid of the consequences and he sees in the
scarlet letter a thing that reminds him forever that it is his fault. For Hester's husband,
Chillingworth, the capital A means the desire to revenge. And for the little Pearl the
sign means curiosity. But the signification of A changes. In the twelfth chapter it
means Angel, because it appears in the night sky when Governor Winthrop died. And
in the next chapter it means Able, because Hester has won a little respect from the
The face Hester puts up is one of a strong woman, with independent mind,
who faces bravely and accepts defiantly the punishment. She progresses day by day
making handmade objects and being patient. She had in her nature a rich,
voluptuous oriental characteristic - a taste for the gorgeously, beautiful, which, save
in the exquisite productions of her needle, found nothing else, in all the possibilities


of her life, to exercise itself upon. (Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 63) Hester
keeps herself busy by making exquisite handmade products for the rich people. She
is financially independent, Hester does not blame this she is happy that she manages
by herself without any exterior help. She lives in a poor house with her daughter, and
she does not lament this either. Hester is confident in what she does.
She was patient - a martyr, indeed - but she forbore to pray for enemies,
lest, in spite of her forgiving aspirations, the words of the blessing should stubbornly
twist themselves into a course.(Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 64) She was
preventing not to get worse, she prayed to moist enemies soul. Her life ensues
calmly, she does not lose her belief in God because she prays. However, she prepares
too for the enemies' curses, Hester knows that life is harsh so she expects whatever
life could bring.
In the chapter entitled Pearl, Hawthorne narrates that God ...had given her
a lovely child, whose place was on that same dishonoured bosom... Let these
thoughts affected Hester Prynne less with hope than apprehension. She knew that her
deed had been evil.(Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 67) She was conscious that
she was bound now with the evil, but despite this she was quiet and patient, she had
endurance that the time would bring peace in her life, not to be clamour down with
every person she met in her way. She could be entirely defined as a model. Yes she
was wrong, she fell into sin, but she knew how to go further. From this we can easily
observe how Nathaniel Hawthorne manages to highlight the positive features of the
heroine by paradoxically placing her in a negative and unflattering context.
Karen Todd says in one of her works about Hester Prynne that Your true
character is revealed by the clarity of your convictions, the choices you make, and
the promises you keep. Hold strongly to your principles and refuse to follow currents
of convenience. What you do defines who you are, and who you are...you are
forever. (Todd, Feminist critique on Scarlet Letter, 2012) Hester is defined with
the author's help with a strong, powerful character, the one who bears up at the harsh
proofs of life. She forces herself to be strong. She does her best to be a model for her
daughter in this cruel life. The adultery that she committed, is the one which
granted her the symbol of the sin in that community. Hester was considered more
than the black sheep of the Puritan community, the symbol of sin, but the novel ends


saying about Hester that she became a model for women. Also the ending lines of the
book revealed that she became a model back in those times, but she is considered a
model nowadays still.
The Scarlet Letter can be considered a feminist work on account of the story
it features. Who has ever had such power to surpass an amount of harsh? Hester had
the courage to say that women should have equal rights, she was not listened to, but
she did her best to build a better life for herself and for her daughter. Having a child
in those conditions was harsh, but she proved us that she could, and she made it. She
stayed and assumed her sin and her punishment. She didn't leave as made any other
person would have if they had been in her place. The Puritans thought about women
that were less than men, anyway Hester Prynne overcame emotional, social and
psychological obstacles in her way through life, and at the end she gained her respect
in that type of restrictive and punishing society. Hester redefined women's abilities
and the social roles a coercing type of community did impose on women rather
So Hester Prynne, the adultress who is punished, if followed in every
almost imperceptible movement of her psychological progress: in her proud, but
desperate isolation; in her slow reconquest of society; in the renewed outbreak of
feelings through which, although years of apparent expiation have gone by, her
passion for the Reverend Dimmesdale can appear in undiminished strength; and in
the dignity which she shows when she takes up her rightful place in the world again
after minister's death. (Cunliffe, American Literature to 1900, p. 177). The Puritan
community condemned her, but anyway she found herself a perfect road on which
she could walk. She did not isolate from people, contrariwise she did her daily
routine amongst

the citizens, it was agreeable, but she had not another choice for

continuing her life there. Hester had to work to provide for her and the daughter she
had. She was knitting and embroidering special works for the richer people, and her
work was highly paid.
Hester Prynne, nevertheless, the lonely mother of this one child ran little
risk of erring on the side of undue severity... Her mother, while Pearl was yet an
infant, grew aquainted with a certain peculiar look, that warned her when it would be
labour thrown away to insist, persuade, or plead.(Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p.


69) Hester treats her daughter strictly and undue with the purpose not to get wrong
Pearl at a certain moment in her life, and maybe also because people around treat her
like this. This way she risked that her daughter become a bad person because she
treated her with severity. Hester had a certain look, as she was
One result was his deep concern with the moral aspects of life; another
was a relentless attitude towards his characters and an emphasis upon the darker
aspects of life; still another was a democratic attitude which led him to 'see all men
as in the light of the judgment day'. (Stovall, Eight American Authors, p. 115)
Hawthorne analyzed the morality, the bad aspects of life and the unfair attitude
towards men compared to woman. The Puritan society was an extremely moral one,
with strict beliefs, which used to punish roughly the person which fell into sin.
The vulgar, who, in those dreary old times, were always contributing a
grotesque horror to what interested their imaginations, had a story about the scarlet
letter which we might readily work up into a terrific legend. They averred that the
symbol was not mere scarlet cloth, tinged in an early dye-pot, but was red-hot with
infernal fire, and would be seen glowing all alight whenever Hester Prynne walked
abroad in the night-time. And we must needs say it seared Hester's bosom so deeply,
that perhaps there was more truth in the rumour than our modern incredulity may be
inclined to admit.(Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 66) She became the character
of a terrified legend, and people were saying dreadful things about this scarlet letter,
that we imagined just as a simple cloth. They used to tell about the scarlet letter that
was the evil fire and at night time it would glow. This kind of stories upset Hester,
but in the mean time they made her stronger. These kind of stories have their roots in
reality, but they are fictionalized and mythologized. Sometimes destiny offers us
such problems just to demonstrate that we are brave and helps us enforce our
qualities and become more aware of our own power.
Hester did not make a tragedy of her situation, she did not ask anyone for
help, she did not beg for a living. Hester had a certain faith that helped her triumph.
Her faith, her conscience was bigger than anyone expected. Having a view of this
situation, everyone would think that Hester would quit. Having a realistic view on
this, we would think that Hester would not have a good fate. Most probably she
would abandon her daughter, she would commit suicide, or they would find their end


in misery, begging for food or something similar. But Hester has her own pride and
power and did not accept any kind of help, even from her sinful. Lonely as was
Hester's situation, and without a friend on earth who dared to show himself, she,
however, incurred no risk of want. She possessed an art that sufficed, even in a land
that afforded comparatively little scope for its exercise, to supply food for her
thriving infant and herself. It was the art then - then, as now, almost the only one
within a woman's grasp - of needlework.(Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 61)
Hester was open minded and she knew in her conscience that she would manage to
go on. Although her soul was destroyed, her inner ego was confronting a really hard
situation. Two souls were sharing the same story, not only she, but also her daughter.
She was an artist in knitting, she designed and made many beautiful clothes,
accessories. For this Hester became appreciated by the main personalities from the
town. She managed to gain money for her and her daughter living. She did not wait
that the help would come out of the blue, she worked hard to offer her daughter a
good fate, and surely better than the one she had.
Hester is a character who marked a wave, the feminist wave. Hawthorne's
heroine was able to demonstrate to the world that although she was a woman she
could do. In her life man is that person who brings impediments. It is said that man is
the one who never makes mistakes; he is pictured as the perfect human who is right
all the time. But let's not generalize. Women are also human beings; they also have
their opinions, their rights, and more importantly, a word to say. In our case, the
woman is the one who performs, who struggles with live and the environment, and
the people that surround her. To be lonely in the world, because we could affirm this
clearly, and to struggle by yourself for daily living is not an easy way to go through
life. She had a special gift which she used to fulfil and show her powers.
In this manner, Hester Prynne came to have a part to perform
in the world. With her native energy of character and rare
capacity, it could not entirely cast her off , although it had set
a mark upon her, more intolerable to a woman's heart than
that which branded the brow of Cain. In all her intercourse
with society, society, however, there was nothing that made
her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every word,


and even the silence of those with whom she came in the
contact, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished,
and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere, or
communicated with the common nature by other organs and
senses than the rest of the human kind. (Hawthorne, The
Scarlet Letter, p. 63)
Hester Prynne is the character who slowly becomes a model showing the world that
no woman is second to man. In Simone de Beauvoirs words a woman is not the
second sex; she is a different one, a distinct individual with rights, strengths and
pursuits. The gender difference should not be an exclusion or persecution factor. In
The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne tries and manages to emphasize women's strength,
their will to power and ability to fight (and eventually overcome) harsh fate and
social stigma. The woman can be independent, from an intellectual point of view and
an economical point of view. Although she wears the mark of sin, she deserves to be
respected because of her getting through. At each step there was something that
spurred in her a kind of repulse, that no one deserved her or wanted her near or in
that town. The people humiliated her, tried to banish her, because she was considered
the devil. She did not care about the voices around, she only new that had a daughter
to raise and that she must go on and survive.
Hester Prynne's figure has a statute that offered her a certain dignity.
Although the next description is made when she gets out of prison she does not look
like a destroyed person. The prison affected her, but not to such an extent that she
cannot express femininity and that classical lady like appearance.
The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance
on a large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy
that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam; and a face which,
besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and
richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to
a market brow and deep black eyes. She was lady-like, too,
after the manner of the feminine gently of those days;
characterized by a certain state and dignity, rather than by the
delicate, evanescent, and indescribable grace which is now


recognized as its indication. And never had Hester Prynne

appeared more lady-like, in the antique interpretation of the
term, than as she issued from the prison... But the point which
drew all eyes, and as it were, transfigured the wearer - so that
both men and woman who had been familiarly acquainted
with Hester Prynne were now impressed as if they beheld her
for the first time - was that Scarlet Letter, so fantastically
embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the
effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with
humanity and enclosing her in a space by herself.
(Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 40)
Hester presented an incredible grace and dignity that no one could show in
this situation. The effect of the scarlet letter was impressive, because no one thought
that the sign of shame, sin, devil would be shown in such an elaborate design.
Although this was a bad mark, Hester took care it looked in a good way. Hester was
the main figure of a lady-like character of those times.
Dimmedale's first appearance, on the other hand, seems to be a good one.
He has done great studies, gives proof of a religious nature and his behaviour was
well received by the community, a puritan community: The directness of this appeal
drew the eyes of the whole crowd upon the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale - a young
clergyman, who had come from one of the great English universities, bringing all the
learning of the age into our forest-land. His eloquence and religious fervour had
already given the earnest of high eminence in his profession. He was a person of very
striking aspect, with a white, lofty, and impending brow, large, brown, melancholy
eyes, and a mouth which, unless when he forcibly compressed it, was apt to be
tremulous, expressing both nervous sensibility and a vast power of self-restraint.
Notwithstanding his high native gifts and scholar-like attainments, there was an air
about this young minister - an apprehensive, a startled, a half-frightened look - as of
a being who felt himself quite astray, and a loss in the pathway of human existence,
and could only be at ease in some seclusion of his own. Therefore, so far as his duties
would permit, he trod in the shadowy by-paths, and thus kept himself simple and
childlike, coming forth, when occasion was, with a freshness, and fragrance, and


dewy purity of thought, which, as many people said, affected them like the speech of
an angel. (Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 49-50) His description intensifies in
good, praising words, until it reaches an interesting comparison. His voice seems for
the people from community as that of an angel, he has a special gift, a speech of an
Dimmesdale seems to have qualms of conscience. The fact that he speaks
alone like in a monologue there seems to be a little awkard. He begins to speak about
justice, punishment, salvation. Which is the purpose of these because he is not an
honest person, he covers his sin, he does not has the honesty to admit that he is
The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale bent his head, in silence prayer, as it
seemed, and then came forward. 'Hester Prynne', said he, leaning
over the balcony, and looking down steadfastly into her eyes, 'thou
hearest what this good man says, and seest the accountability under
which I labour. If though feelest it to be for thy soul's peace, and that
thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to
salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner
and fellow-sufferer! Be not silent from any mistaken pity and
tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step
down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal
of shame, yet better were it so than to hide a guilty heart through life.
What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him - yea, compel
him, as it were - to add hypocrisy to sin? Heaven hath granted thee
an open ignominy, that thereby thou mayest work out an open
triumph over the evil within thee and the sorrow without. Take heed
how thou deniest to him - who, perchance, hath not the courage to
grasp it for himself - the bitter, but wholesome cup that is now
presented to thy lips! (Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 50)
He clearly admits that the situation of Hester is a better one than his because Hester
admitted her sin, she does not hide something, she has no qualms of conscience.
Hester can walk around without regrets that she is a liar, she is not forced to hide her
look, her eyes because she is honest although there was a moment when she had


made a mistake. This monologue does not save him, however from the last
punishment in front of God. He seems sorrowful, but he does nothing to be even with
Hester, her child and the people around, he does nothing to try to repair his error.
Here is the issue, he is aware that he has done wrong but he does nothing. In this way
we could not take into account that he regrets, if one was actually sorry they would
try to do something in order to repair their mistake. He would not go to Heaven just
because he is a Reverend, he has to do good things, but he lacks the qualities of an
pure and honest man with fear of God. The discussion could be taken further if we
thought of a simple question, probably arising in a lay reader's mind: how could a
priest give a moralizing speech about one's sin if he himself is part of that very sinful
Hester's life focused just on the welfare of Pearl. Little Pearl, although is
the child her mother's sin, remained the centre of the universe. All day long,
wherever Hester had to go, Pearl was with her. They were not separated even for a
second. Nothing was more remarkable than the instinct, as it seemed, with which
the child comprehended her loneliness: the destiny that had drawn an inviolable
circle round about her: the whole peculiarity, in short, of her position in respect to
other children. Never, since her release from prison, had Hester met the public gaze
without her. In all her walks about the town, Pearl too, was there: first as the babe in
arms, and afterwards as the little girl, small companion of her mother holding a
forefinger with her whole grasp, and tripping along the rate of three or four footsteps
to one of Hester's. (Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 70) Hester was lonely from
many points of view and Pearl felt this even she was just a little child. Both of them
were inseparable, even if now Pearl is a girl, she was always near her mother. The
image of Hester and Pearl walking in the central square is like an old picture which
depicts a strong, honourable woman near her daughter. Both of them project
admiration, fulfilment, Hester could be proud of her success because she had not an
easy faith. Mother and child, not only because of the destiny, they love and respect
each other. Pearl is just a child but she understands a lot, she feels the loneliness of
her mother, she feels that her mother is often upset. They are still living together
against the bad voices around. On every walk they go for together are surrounded by
people's gaze. But this did not frighten Hester, maybe at the beginning these eyes


annoyed Pearl, now everyone accepted the situation and these critical eyes were
simply some eyes.
According to popular generalization, the most important in a woman's life is
her child, no matter the situation she wants to know her child close to her and that
the child is well. Hester wanted the same things. However this child was unwanted,
her daughter was perceived as the sin, shame, devil's son, after she had born also the
mother feelings had became stronger. 'Thou wast my pastor, and hadst charge of
my soul, and knowest me better than these men can. I will not lose the child! Speak
for me! Thou knowest - for thou hast sympathies which these men lack - thou
knowest what is in my heart, and what are a mother's rights, and how much the
stronger they are when that mother has but her child and the scarlet letter! Look thou
it! I will not loss the child! Look to it!' (The Scarlet Letter, p. 85) Hester had also
the possibility to abandon the little Pearl, but her heart did not let her make such a
mistake. Also the child got accustomed to her mother's scarlet letter, the symbol of
the sin. Hester proves that she is a true mother, she does not want to lose her child.
The child is blood from her own blood, and in her conscience the blood is the
strongest of human bonds so they must be close forever. Hester says that these two
things made her stronger: the fact that she had only her daughter, no other relatives
or a husband or a lover, and the scarlet letter.
The punishment she received for the huge mistake of making the pact with
the evil, getting involved in an intimate relation with Reverend Dimmesdale, forced
her in a way to become stronger because otherwise she would not make it. Such an
amount of suffering she had gone through, after that she committed the sin, helped
her realize the importance of her acts and decisions. She did not try once to blame
Dimmesdale for her situation, so she managed only by herself. Her daughter gave her
force to struggle for their own destiny, and that symbol of the sin which was seen
with shame from everywhere contributed a lot to her personal development. The fact
that she was a very good handicraft did not help her if she had no force to live and
fight. Being able to cope with these kinds of things helped her to earn her money and
survive. Hester did not take care of her appearance, but of Pearl's welfare. Pearl was
dressed like a princess, she had a lot of pretty dresses made by her mother's hands,
Hester was able to offer Pearl a good life without any outside help. Pearl was her


daughter so she made sure Pearl would not miss something. The fact that she values
her child proves that she really loves her baby. She would not ever permit someone
to separate them. Under these circumstances she defends her daughter like a lion
would his cub, with the price of her own life.
Reverend Dimmesdale was seen by the Puritans like a true priest, as he was
sent by God. He gave proof in the front of the community that was a true religionist,
he warmed up everyone's heart with his religious discourses, he is a great orator, he
has the gift of speaking. Not many people master the art of speaking and this fact
made popular, admired and loved. He was loved by that community because
everyone knew only good things about him, all of them knew only the things
revealed by his appearance, and not by his essence also, by his intimate, unrevealed
features. Reverend Dimmesdale reaches quickly people's hearts; in this way he gets
also into Hester's heart. She was weak, abandoned by her husband, because no one
knew something about him, she confessed to Dimmesdale, he said a good word, and
after many discussions something got them closer. As stated previously, Hester being
weak at that time ceased and gave into sin. But the people from the community knew
about him just the brightest details, that he had good studies and that he was a truly
religious man. Mr. Dimmesdale was a true priest, a true religionist, with the
reverential sentiment largely developed, and an order of mind that impeded itself
powerfully along the track of a creed and wore its passage continually deeper with
the lapse of time.(Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 92) contrasting with ...the
reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, like many other personages of especial sanctity, in all
ages of the Christian world, was haunted either by Satan himself, or Satan's emissary,
in the guise of old Roger Chillingworth. This diabolical agent had the Divine
permission for a season to burrow into the clergyman's intimacy and plot against his
soul. No sensible man, it was confessed, could doubt on which side the victory would
turn. The people looked, with an unshaken hope, to see the minister come forth out
of the conflict, transfigured with the glory which he unquestionable win. Meanwhile,
nevertheless, it was sad to think of the perchance mortal agony through which he
must struggle towards his triumph. (Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 95), my
emphasis was said that because he was a Christian he is followed more than others
by Satan. Also the people nowadays, the specialists and especially the priests, state


that a bad person is not so followed by Satan because his/ her destiny is clear, it is
in Satan's hands, but the true Christians are haunted by Satan to attract them onto his
dark side. The true Christians are most tested and tempted to do evil. So in this
category, one could suppose Dimmesdale was, too. Once he got into sin. there
seemed no chance for him to come back. In this situation we consider the man a
weak person because he is not able to recognize his mistake and continues to lie. In
our case the man is not a victorious person, on the contrary he is fake, a traitor, he is
not able to recognize in front of everyone that he was the real guilty character in this
story. If he wanted sometimes to be forgiven, would have to go he will pass through
mortal agony as it is stated in the Hawthorne quotation. We, readers, do not know if
he would be able to get over this mortal agony to become triumphant because he is
not able to do minor, everyday small things. The man is not the bravest person in the
world, and not even here. Dimmesdale proves that his genre is less capable than a
woman. The woman manages to pass briefly and regains her rights, respect and all of
those in the most cruel, difficult way. The woman does not blame someone for her
destiny, she only knows that she must go away, bravely and the most important thing
without any qualms of conscience.
The lay people from the Puritan community think about Dimmesdale that he
is almost a saint, they were praising him, compared him to an angel. Indeed he had a
wonderful voice, but the people around did not know the truth, the fact that he hid
horrible things. Dimmesdale was not the perfect person, a saint as they would
imagine. He is a man like all people; he has made a tremendous mistake which could
not be forgiven if he did not admit his guilt. It kept him down on a level with the
lowest: him, the man of ethereal attributes, whose voice the angels might have
listened to and answered! But this very burden it was that gave him sympathies so
intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind; ... The aged members of his flock,
beholding Mr. Dimmesdale's frame so feeble, while they were themselves so rugged
in their infirmity, believed that he would go heavenward before them, and enjoined it
upon their children that their old bones should be buried close to their young pastor's
holy grave. And all this perchance, when poor Mr. Dimmesdale was thinking of his
grave, he questioned with himself whether the grass would ever grow on it, because
an accursed thing must there be burried! (Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 106-


107) Transferring the discussion into a common perspective, the community behaved
like a flock of sheep in front of Jesus. They think about him that he is the man with
no sin and he would go to heaven before them. In fact he is the most 'impure' of
them, but no one knows, only him and Hester. But Hester would never open her
mouth to affirm this. The Puritans also begin to think that they should make their
own graves near the one of the young pastor. Here the flock of Puritans believers
begins to exaggerate. The poor Dimmesdale only has in his mind if grass would ever
grow on his grave. Here we have a realistic thought, but this would be his destiny if
he does not change his mind and do something for his salvation, or even worse.
Despite the fact that she had gone through such austere circumstances, her
soul remained intact in front of the one who had once been her soul. Seeing Mr.
Dimmesdale in bad conditions is came over by some unexpected feelings. In her
late singular interview with Mr. Dimmesdale, Hester Prynne was shocked at the
condition to which she found the clergyman reduced... Knowing what this poor fallen
man had once been, her whole soul was moved by the shuddering terror with which
he had appealed to her - the outcast woman - for support against his instinctively
discovered enemy. She decided, moreover, that he had a right to utmost aid.
(Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 119) Hester was moved by terror and not just by
this, by a shuddering terror. Although she would want to not be affected by
Dimmesdale conditions, she has a soul and feelings. She was prepared to help him
because she considered he was in his right to have utmost aid. Maybe he was not so
bad looking from a physical point of view, but the sorrow and the pain destroyed him
from inside to the outside. His inner, psychological problems became physical ones.
Here I think begins the mortal agony. The fact that he did not recognize his part of
guilt amplified his pain.
Hester is a powerful and peculiar person, in her opinion these qualities were
given by the symbol of the scarlet letter she is forced to wear as a social stigma.
Sometimes you need that something bad happens in your life in order to become
stronger. The effect of the symbol - or, rather of the position in respect to society
that was indicated by it - on the mind of Hester Prynne herself was powerful and
peculiar. All the light and graceful foliage of her character had been withered up by
this red-hot brand, and had long ago fallen away, leaving a bare and harsh outline,


which might have been repulsive had she possessed friends or companions to be
repelled by it. ... It was a sad transformation, too, that her rich and luxuriant hair had
either been cut off, or was so completely hidden by a cap, that not a shining lock of it
ever once gushed into the sunshine. ... If she be all tenderness, she will die. If she
survive, the tenderness will either be crushed out of her, or - and the outward
semblance is the same - crushed so deeply into her heart that it can never show itself
more. The latter is perhaps the truest theory. She who has once been a woman, and
ceased to be so, might at any moment become a woman again, ... (Hawthorne, The
Scarlet Letter, p. 122) All her grace and light were in a way darkened by the symbol
of the scarlet letter. Hester did not perceived like this, she has also courage to
transform this symbol in a pretty letter, beautifully embroidered. Of course this
symbol marked her as a stamp for all the people that surrounded she was like a dark
sheep. In this description we do not see her hair, it was cut or it was covered, but a
woman's hair is something significant. Her hair was once rich and luxuriant, but now
is missing. Hester Prynne had a kind of tenderness that not many people have, but
this was broken by the circumstances. She was a woman, now she is not because she
does not take care of herself but by her daughter, but she could became a women
again at any moment. She is like a butterfly in a metamorphoses stage, expects the
perfect moment to show up.
Hester used to show a cold image, marble coldness. This thing was just the
result of her cruel destiny, of her faith. Much of the marble coldness of Hester's
impression was to be attributed to the circumstance that her life had turned, in a great
measure, from passion and feeling to thought. Standing alone in the world - alone, as
to any dependence on society, and with little Pearl to be guided and protected - alone,
and hopeless of retrieving her position, even had she not scorned to consider it
desirable - she cast away the fragments of a broken chain. (Hawthorne, The Scarlet
Letter, p. 122) The passion and feeling that she had before now are becoming
meditations, thoughts. The thing that she is alone confers her a lot of time for
thinking at everything it was, at the things are happening right now and what she
could do next. She and the little Pearl are like abandoned by the faith, Hester soul is
broken but she tries to repair it with the love/ help of Pearl.


Even if she is a patient woman she has her limits. Meeting from time to time
with Dimmesdale she could not see any more such a liar and continue suffering just
because of the man. Man was made after the appearance of God, this man is the one
that gave her a lot of troubles, he is the one who complicated Hester's life. 'Be it sin
or no,' said Hester Prynne, bitterly, as she still gazed after him, 'I hate the man!'
"(Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 131). She does not take into account if it is sin
or not to feel hate for someone. She declares that she hates the man.
Dimmesdale continues to hide his sin, including his heart. To Hester's eye,
the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale exhibited no symptom of positive and vivacious
suffering except that, as little Pearl had remarked, he kept his hand over his
heart.(Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 141) He was hiding his heart because it was
hiding his soul. He did not wanted to tell the truth because he knew that his faith
would not be a good one after the Puritanist community will find out. Reverend
Dimmesdale though that also him has the symbol of the scarlet letter on the heart. He
was in a way obsessed of this idea. His qualms of conscience made him imagine
things that are not.
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale reaches a moment when he is terrified of sin. He
feels that nothing could be done for him 'There is no substance in it! It is cold and
dead, and can do nothing for me! Of penence, I have had enough! Of penitence, there
has been none! Else, I should long ago have shown myself to mankind as they will
see me at the judgement-seat. Happy are you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter
openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret! Thou little knowest what a relief it
is, after the torment of a seven years' cheat, to look into an eye that recognises me for
what I am! Had I one friend - or were it my worst enemy! (Hawthorne, The Scarlet
Letter, p. 144) Now he says that it would have been better if a long time ago we had
confessed the truth and stayed in front of the judgement. He says about Hester that
she is happy because the symbol of her sin is upon her bosom, so it not affects so
much her soul and mind. But his symbol burns in secret because it was not
confessed. He is terrified after seven years since he hides this secret, this thing
destroys him from the inside. Maybe or surely if he had confessed his sin he would
have felt better but because he does not do this is like a thing that breaks him more
and more every day. His soul crushes because of this un-confessed sin.


Dimmesdale had no courage to look into Hesters eyes, an aspect which

bothered her. This thing reveals that he is a weak person and is not able to admit the
reality, the truth. Hester would not set him free, lest he should look her sternly in the
face. (Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 146). He is the one who prays to God to
forgive them, and he seems that he wants to die silently. Hester does not agree with
this. He prepares for this saying: I freely forgive you now. May God forgive us
both! We are not, Hester, the worst sinners in the world. (Hawthorne, The Scarlet
Letter, p. 146). But how can a priest say that he and the one with whom he
committed the sin are not the worst sinners. The sin is still a sin and has no degree of
comparison especially between the Puritans.

3.3. A Brief Fore-Conclusion

Nathaniel Hawthorne presents us in his great work Scarlet Letter a sad love
story on the background of the religious Puritan doctrine dominant during the
seventeenth century, the original sin, the struggle between sin and being right, and
human failing. Hester Prynne is a woman whose husband is gone; no one knows
anything about him. Hester flaws her marriage by engaging in a sexual relationship
with the community Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. She is tried for adultery but no
one cares that she is pregnant or that the other sinner has a part of the shared guilt for
this sin.
The Scarlet Letter is a careful measuring of the historical,
religious, literary and emotional distance that separated the Puritan
New England of the past from the transcendentalist New England
of the present, of the change from the old iron world to the world
of freedom of speculation which Hester, Hawthorne's most






Puritanism to Postmodernism, p. 145, my emphases)

Hester is the feminist character realized by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the one who
confronted with the clear situation of struggling with the patriarchal society, creating


a sort of upheaval, she is the one who ploughed the way from the iron world, the
Puritan New England to the world of freedom.
Hester gives proof that a woman can manage by herself. She is a perfect
example of development from a spiritual, economical, and social point of view. She
confronted things that nowadays people would say that are science fiction, but there
was a time when such things happened. The author used to compare Hester Prynne
with Anne Hutchinson, Puritan with liberal religious beliefs. Anne Hutchinson was
banished from Massachusetts because she disobeyed the law. The same situation it
might also have happened to Hester. She had to choose between running away to
save her skin or staying and accepting the consequences. She was proposed to be
lynched, but she escaped this hard punishment. Hester went to prison. This milder
punishment is hard to carry out especially for a pregnant woman.
The symbol of the sin has a huge impact on the characters but also upon
readers. The letter A receives many connotations throughout the book, but the most
important symbol is that of the sin. We find out that the one who recognizes her guilt
has lesser problems with consciousness but more with the community; whereas the
one who hides his guilt has serious problems of consciousness but he lives at peace
with the community. I do not know which option from the book would the readers
choose, but I prefer the first one (the one Hester had). Here the individuals are
fighting for their individuality or just for their freedom.
The woman, Hester Prynne, is a smart one who chooses the best way for
rising and regaining her social status. She admits that it was not good what she had
done but she is sorry and she goes on down the good path doing what is best for her
and her daughter. Hester manages to evolve by being a smart and powerful woman,
but also these are the result of her failure and weakness. Because generally maybe no
one would rise so impressively if there had been no tragedy. The fact that we are
interested is that Hester managed to advance without any external help. She had no
one in the world, no family, no friends, just faith in God and two wonderful hands
that helped her make money for a living and the love for her daughter. I think that
her daughter also gave her courage to go on.
The Patriarchal society expected every woman to keep silent irrespective of
what problem it was about. Disregarding these, Hester was exiled to the edge of the


settlement. This marginalization offered her more freedom and helped her make the
best decisions for her daughters life and for her own. Hester does not allow her
daughter to be taken away from her. She treated her daughter as a princess, dressed
her like one, offered her everything fit for a good life. Hester knew how to be a
mother and father for her daughter. In traditional families the man is the one who
earns the money in house for daily living, but here Hester does this. Hester also
offers freedom to her daughter to play and to behave as a child does, she does not
punish her nor does she argue.
Hester Prynne is not disloyal. She would not speak if Mr. Dimmesdale
would not. She keeps the secret and assumes that is her own blame. She does not
discover the name of the one with whom committed the sin. It is said that the woman
speaks more and has a emotional character and could not be rational thinking, but in
our case Hester is the one who is rational thinking not the man, Dimmesadale.
Our heroine managed to emerge from a terrible situation, a bad condition by
struggling with the whole community, to be a successful woman. Lonely in this
world and representing the symbol of the sin, Hester finds power to resist, struggle
and improve. In those times it was difficult to grow by yourself unlike today, because
then there was no liberty, freedom, there were just strict rules that you had to follow.
She disobeyed these but she knew the key to go on.
A true feminist fights for her own rights and does not allow herself be
limbered by the ones surrounding her. She gave proof that she can go on, continue
her life without any external help. She worked to have money for a living, she took
care of her daughter like no one it would do, and the most important she gain the
respect of the community.
To regain the respect after committing adultery and being exiled is an
extraordinary thing. She knew to persevere without taking into account the bad
words from people around. Hester knew to walk in the square with a certain pride in
her look and not listen to the others speaking about her. Hester gives proof that a
woman could be more powerful than a man and that this gender should not be
dominated by Patriarchal society, women also have rights even when they make a
mistake there is a way to return to the good path. A woman could be independent
from any perspective; here in the Puritan community the man is the one who stops


the woman from her intellectual, financial and social development. Hester Prynne is
an example that remained in the history of literature for her cruel destiny, power to
struggle and the pride of success.


Woman was many times viewed as a secondary person mainly on account of
the ancient stories of creation, namely in the Christian context because she was
created only after Adam's creation. Although she was not the first Biblical creature
we could not blame her for this position, we should treat her like we would man
because Jesus treats us all equally, indiscriminately. Women are not inferior as some
people might say; they have advanced in all types of domains, at work, in private
life, in society. The traditional role of the woman in a family or in society was to get
married since early age, take care of the house and children. But this does not
necessarily happen nowadays, womans condition has evolved, improved a bit;
nevertheless there are just a few exceptions, the feminist wave transformed society
and women's place in it. The feminists have been struggling to break down the
assumptions that women are weak, emotional, or passive. Now women have careers,
they are business-women, scientists, or have any other job. They are not limited to
stay at home, or have a certain job; they have their right to chose what they want.
The struggle for womens rights began since Antiquity. In Ancient Greece
Plato suggested in his Laws that women have the same rights as men. Plato proposed
that women could choose the same education as men; women would have access to
law courts, the right to own properties, the claim to live and work in the same way as
men, even to compete in athletic competitions as men did. These ideas were too
liberal to have an echo at that time.
Surprisingly, Ancient Egyptian women seemed to have the same legal and
economic rights men enjoyed. This fact is proved by their inscriptions. Egyptian
women had the right to manage their property according to their good will, they
could own slaves and even draft testaments. But she was entrusted to the home and
family. In Roman Society woman had poor rights or none at all; her role was to raise
children and take care of the house, eventually she would also work the land. The
first historical example of womans fulfilment is Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. Even
though she was a woman she succeeded to lead a nation.


The patriarchal society compromised womans intellectual development. She

lived limited, restricted by what traditional rules said, by what her role as daughter or
as wife said. Patriarchy assumes that the father or the husband or the elder man in
the family has absolute authority over the family, especially over its women. Many
persons perceive this terminology in the wrong way; they associate it with religion,
but it is a huge mistake to confound aspects so different.
The modern feminist wave began with Marry Wollstonecraft's Vindication of
the Rights of Woman (1792). Wollstonecraft wanted to reveal in her work the ideal
woman, abandoning the idea of the domestic female to create a new woman, an
intellectual one, with education and social position.
American feminism started with the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, a
reunion discussing the social, civil, and religious rights of women. It is also named
Women Rights Convention and it was the first one of the kind. Women asked for
social, moral and civil rights, the same men had. The first debated idea was the
discrimination based on sex. This convention contributed to the history of womens
In 1952 was translated and published in United States The Second Sex by
French feminist and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, a work which focused on
women's treatment throughout history.
The second wave of feminism continued fighting for equal rights in the
early 1970s. The major book written under these circumstances was The Feminine
Mystique by Betty Friedan, published in 1963. She started this book by interviewing
unhappy house wives. Despite their having material security, money, they were
married, they had children, but they were still unhappy. Betty Friedan noticed the
lack of career opportunities in women's lives, the lack of intellectual opportunities,
and an active role in the cultural life.
The third wave of feminism is also named postfeminism. The third wave
is also represented by magazines alongside main postfeminist writers like Virginia
Woolf, Dorothy Richardson, Emily Bronte and Charlotte Bronte.
Deborah L. Madsen reveals that the patriarchal system was a form of
oppression for women, a culture about which we could sincerely state that it
manipulated women.


Simone de Beauvoir, French feminist, analyses women's condition,

treatment, status throughout history, investigating womanhood. She began to work
on The Second Sex while French women were pressured by society, by the ambient
and patriarchal system to become only wives and mothers. Beauvoir analyses
women's situation naming them the absolute other. She encouraged intellectual,
cultural and economical ascension of women. The famous statement of Simone de
Beauvoir One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman (de Beauvoir as qtd by
Bauer, Simone de Beauvoir, p. 51), alludes to gender identity. Helene Cixous,
emerged in France during the Second Wave Feminism. She was interested and
focused on sexual differences. In 1975 she published The Newly Born Woman.
Woman is born to grow in diversity and she wants to reach a certain aim, to
set her own goals in life. Madame Bovary and Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter
are two women struggling with their own environment, patriarchy, social problems,
traditional rules and roles, or Puritans. Woman is creative, and having nothing to do
makes her bored, some unpleasant things could even appear, such as sin, namely that
of adultery. She is born with maternal feelings and she also needs to have someone
close to her heart, to understand, encourage, or give her the appropriate advice when
needed; or simply just to be there for her, stand by her side. Emma and Hester lack
these and this was the main source that tricked them into sin. Emma has her
husbands physical nearness, but just this. Whereas Hester thought that her husband
was dead, she knew she was a widow. Men can voluntarily or involuntarily destroy
woman's life, character, way of living, mind, and behaviour.
Patriarchal society misunderstands womens problems, feelings, or they just
do not think of them as human beings, just simply womanhood, work entity. Emma
wanted to have the same access to high society as men did. She wanted to take part
to the cultural life, cultural events, festivals, and her biggest wish was to attend in the
balls regularly. She tried to cope and deal with things as they happened in the books
she read, but it was not the same, there was no happily ever after in her life, there
were just problems over and over again. Emma felt acutely the absence of someone
with whom she could socialize, share ideas or philosophies.
The punishment women have to carry out is another aspect that has been
discussed. The Puritan religious beliefs are obvious in Hesters case. The punishment


for having committed adultery is cruel. In Emma's case we could name it also self
punishment. It was too hard for her to live after she consciously saw what she had
done. Hester had to choose between running away, which was not a good option, and
staying and abiding by the punishment. For these kinds of problems feminists
struggled through the years. Hester went to prison although pregnant; there she was
as if exiled by the people from her community. I see in their child a sort of salvation,
but not both of them knew how to best use this opportunity. Emma thought that
running away with her lover was the best solution, but it was not like she had
planned. Hester Prynne brings together all her forces and manages to go on although
she was considered the symbol of the sin in that community. Finally she received
some respect from the community. She was brave in everything she had done and so
she gained everything, even respect, deserving it.
The significance of Emma's name also proves that she would not have a
normal, usual fate. Emma lived daydreaming, she was not able to see or deal with her
reality, or maybe she just won't. She did not respect moral life and ended by failing.
Trying to evolve she got lost. She hoped that becoming married she would be the
happiest person in the world, as the books of fiction predicted, but it was not enough.
Emma wanted power to accomplish more with her life, but to do this meant that she
would have to destroy the traditional roles of wife and mother. She is a victim of
patriarchal society.
Women should have the right to choose what they want or not. But it seems
that women were forced by the environment to do one thing or another. Hester does
not revolt, she accepts she is wrong, she assumes her sin, but Hester wants to
continue her life by having the child and trying to get on the best way. Hester proves
to be a strong woman with independent mind, who faces her future bravely and
accepts defiantly the punishment she received. She progresses day by day making
handmade objects and being patient. She does her best to be a model for her daughter
in this cruel life. Hester's life focused just on the welfare of Pearl. Hester is a
powerful and peculiar person, and in her opinion these qualities were paradoxically
given by the symbol of the stigmatising scarlet letter. The letter A receives many
connotations throughout the book, but the most important symbol is that of the sin.


These two women tried to change their own destiny. Not both of them knew
which was the perfect way to go, which were the best options, or how to manage
their situation. Only Hester proved that a woman could have an independent life
from all points of view. Emma was more interested in social and intellectual
advancement; she tried and succeeded up to a certain point, because her end was



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