The Scarlet Letter

Disputing Feminist Themes in The Scarlet Letter 11th Grade

The Scarlet Letter written by Nathaniel Hawthorne is set in 1600’s Puritan Boston. It tells the story of Hester Prynne, a woman who suffers public ignominy, forced to wear a red scarlet letter for her sin of adultery. The Scarlet Letter provides a look at the stringent laws and ideology of a heavily patriarchal Puritan society. The Scarlet Letter has the connotation of being a protofeminist novel, but, while it does address the danger of a purely patriarchal society it does not meet the feminist standards of the twenty-first century because of Hawthorne’s prejudice against intellectual women.

In the novel Hawthorne hints that the idea of women as intellectual equals could not survive in practice while taking responsibility away from men. In chapter thirteen Hester comes to “discern it may be, such a hopeless task before her” to make equality for women in her society (114). Hester sees no practical way to change the ideology surrounding gender roles. She believes men’s entire belief system would have to be torn down before there could be equality, and even then women would have to change themselves to be able to take up a “fair and suitable position” in society (114). Later in the passage, Hawthorne takes responsibility away...

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