Question: Do you consider Hester Prynne a tragic character? Discuss.
The novel “The Scarlet Letter” (1850) composed by the American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) is a tragic romance fictional work in the history of American literature. In the novel, the protagonist is represented as a tragic character from the beginning to the end. A tragic hero or heroine is a kind of character in tragedy and usually the protagonist. Tragic heroes usually have heroic traits that gain the sympathy of the audience.
Hester Prynne as a tragic
Hawthorn’s novel has dealt with Hester as a tragic character. If we want to judge any character as tragic or not, we will have to evaluate first the characteristic features of a tragic character. But Hester is a different tragic character from the conventional tragic character.
More Notes of The Scarlet Letter
Excessive courage on herself
Hester’s character is characterized by her courage and bravery in the face of adversity. He was imprisoned and a child was born in the prison house. She wears the letter “A” as a sign of her guilt and sews her dress over her chest. In the story, she has been sustained a transfiguration and transformation and becomes accompanied by the Biblical image of Eve, who has sinned for eating the forbidden fruit. So from this point of view, we can understand that Hester’s boldness is her excessive courage that is one of the characteristic features of a tragic character.
“She turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and the shame were real”
Tragic flaw of her life
The tragic flaw is an important feature of a tragic hero or heroine. In the novel, we see that Hester is obsessed with the tragic flaw in her entire life. She has been imprisoned for her adultery. According to the Puritan law, she has been grasped in her chest. For her adultery, she has to lead a secluded life and faced various problems in her life. So we can say that Hester is a tragic character.
Patience of Hester
Hester is the most patient character in the history of English literature. In the novel, we find Hester as an exceptional quality of patience which has recognized her as a tragic character. In the novel, Nathaniel Hawthorne has been presented Haster as the embodiment of endurance. She had to endure extreme shame and suffering for her love and illegal child. The town people have separated her from the locality. Hester’s loneliness and suffering become her mental strength and add to her spiritual flaw for working the charitable work. So we can say that Hester’s patience has made her a tragic heroine.
“The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her, – so much power to do, and power to sympathize – that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification.”
In the Shakespearian tragedy, we have noticed that the tragic hero came from royal birth. In the novel “The Scarlet Letter” it is noticeable that Hester has not a royal blooded personality but she has a royal heart which gave her the power of pardoning the violating attitude of the townspeople and her fellow sinner. Later on, we came to know that Hester’s has started the charitable work for the poor and for the helpless people of the town of Boston. For her charitable work she has been known as the “Sister of Mercy” this feature is well matched to the characteristic features of a tragic hero or heroine.
Reversal of fate
Reversal of fate is the most remarkable trait of the Aristotelian tragic hero. In the novel “The Scarlet Letter” we get some sign of reversal of fate. Mr. Arthur Dimmesdale is the young priest and governor of the town of Boston and the fellow sinner of the adultery of Hester. Hester was promised to Dimmesdale that she would not disclose the fact. According to her promise, she has rather endured public shame than disclose the name of her lover. But in the 23 chapters in the irony of fate Dimmesdale himself disclosed the fact that he was the fellow sinner and father of Pearl. It was the reversal of Hester’s fate.
“The law was broke! – the sin here so awfully revealed! – let these alone be in thy thoughts! I fear! I fear! It may be that, when we forgot our God, – when we violated our reverence each for the other’s soul, – it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could meet hereafter, in an everlasting and pure reunion.”
We can conclude that undoubtedly the protagonist of the novel Hester is a tragic character. Her character is well matched to the characteristic features of a tragic character from a slightly different angle.
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