Is The Scarlet Letter a feminist novel?
Hawthorne is not always straightforward in his depiction of Hester as a strong woman worthy of admiration. His tendency toward obfuscation, in combination with the now-archaic gender roles portrayed in
If Hawthorne is often reserved in his praise of Hester, however, he is just as often lavish with it. He portrays those who judge her, male and female alike, as coarse hypocrites. He turns our attention to Mistress Hibbins, forcing us to recognize the insanity of a society that tolerates an unrepentant, devil-worshipping witch on the one hand, yet banishes an adulterous woman on the other hand. He asks us to compare Hester’s strength, openness, and loyalty with Dimmesdale’s cowardly silence and Chillingworth’s nearly psychotic quest for revenge. He has Dimmesdale state explicitly that adultery is practically meaningless compared to the evil of vengefulness, a statement that casts Hester as a martyr at the hands of society in general and Chillingworth in particular. Hawthorne stresses that in the face of unbearably cruel treatment, Hester responds with laudable strength and humility.
Of course, Hawthorne never would have used the word