October 05, 2004

Hester's "Self Reliance"

Hester is the hero in Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, and embodies Emmerson’s“self-reliance.” Though shamed in front of her people for and adulterous act, Hester stands proud and unrepentant with the child whose arrival trumpeted her sin. She resolutely refuses to divulge the father’s name even under pressure. She carries on as a single parent with grace and fortitude, demonstrating an intellect and courage that one could argue is at least equal to the two men in her life, Chillingsworth and Dimmesdale. She is the only winner in the triangle they form; by her actions she wins back her place in society…though she rejects the notion of living among them having gained an inner strength in her solitude.

Hawthorne writes:

“But Hester Prynne, with a mind of native courage and activity, and for so long a period…outlawed from society, had habituated herself to such latitude of speculation as was altogether foreign to the clergyman. She had wandered, without rule or guidance… in a moral wilderness…where she roamed as freely as the wild Indian in his woods. For years past she had looked from this estranged point of view at human institutions, and whatever priests or legislators had established; criticising all…”

This illustrates Emmerson’s thinking as described in his essay Self-Reliance: “It is only as a man puts off from himself all external support and stands alone that I see him to be strong and to prevail. Is not a man better than a town?”

In this case it is a woman who is better than a town.

Posted by LindaFondrk at October 5, 2004 12:15 PM

An excellent set of connections... I've been enjoying the burst of activity on your blog.

What would Hester say to Hillary Clinton, whose mantra was, "It takes a village to raise a child"?

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at October 5, 2004 02:29 PM

Maybe she'd hand her the Scarlet Letter to give to Bill! Seriously, though, I don't think anyone, (even Emerson?) would dispute that children benefit from community and peer interaction. It was pretty clear that Pearl's isolated upbringing wasn't giving her the socialization she needed. Intellectually, she was probably more advanced than most, but "EQ", that is, emotional intelligence is gained from social involvement. That seems to be a far better predictor of personal success than "IQ".

Posted by: Linda Fondrk at October 5, 2004 07:09 PM

I loved your comparisons between Hester's situation in the town, and what Emmerson describes in Self-Reliance. That is such a good obvious connection between the two!!! I wish I had thought of it! (ha ha)

Posted by: Jessica Zelenak at October 6, 2004 12:51 PM
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