The Scarlet Letter's Hester Prynne Compared To Puritan Poet Anne Bradstreet
Hester Prynne, the Main character in The Scarlet Letter, and Anne Bradstreet, the early Puritan Poet have much in common. For instance, they both survive the arduous overseas journey from England to become symbols of strength and ability in the Massachusetts Bay colony; although, the two females differ in many ways, their common strengths include their strong feelings of duty towards their husbands and the seriousness with which they take their roles as parents in Puritan society. Bradstreet’s love for her husband is evident in the verses she writes such as, “To My Dear Loving Husband,” in this poem she tells of her great love for her husband and the puritan knowledge that she will earn her place in heaven at his side through that love. On a much darker note, Prynne shows strong feeling of duty towards her husband by keeping the truth about his identity safe for so many years. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, Prynne chooses her duty towards her husband over that of her lover.
Speaking plainly, neither Anne nor Hester are strong at all. Anne contracts smallpox on multiple occasions leading to paralysis in her joints, later in life tuberculosis struck her. Her health suffers and sometimes she is far from her husband for long periods. Both her father and her husband served as Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; it is evident that she loved them both very deeply as she writes about them often. Despite her poor health, she had eight children and achieved a comfortable social standing. (Wikipedia Life 3) Never the less, Bradstreet survived the grueling trip to America from England during the Great Puritan Migration. Hester Prynne survives the journey in the pen of Nathaniel Hawthorne, years after the puritan migration. He writes a fictional tale of a woman who wears the symbol “A” on her chest for her sin of committing adultery. Thus, Anne is weak due to physical illness and Hester weak due to her sin.
Harold Bloom and "ethos" in Literature
Harold Bloom explains in the preface to a compilation of essays named for the patron character of Hawthorne’s book, “Hester Prynne”, that a character is not just, “a graphic symbol, such as a letter of the alphabet." He goes further to affirm the idea that a character is also an identity, a “Greek ‘ethos’ or ‘habitual way of life.’”(Bloom ix) Analyzing Prynne according to Bloom’s ideas, she becomes a person through actions that transcend the symbolism of the scarlet letter that she must wear. This is how Hester make an oversea journey alone, healthy, and unscathed. Similarly, Anne gains Blooms’ “ethos” as a character in her vivid narrative poetry. For Instance, Bradstreet cries for God to save her children in, “Here Follow Some Verses upon the Burning of Our House, July 10 1666.” And to my God my Heart did cry / To strengthen me in my distress / and not to leave me succorless. (p212, par8) Similarly, Hester cries out for her daughter, Pearl, at the Governor’s Mansion when the clergy and magistrates thought to take the fatherless child away from her, the adulterous mother.
The characters Anne Bradstreet and Hester Prynne are so alike yet so different. Anne’s character is a saint; she is a steadfast wife, who barely writes a poem without apologizing to or thanking her Mother country, her family, or God. Her tone is soft and sweet even at times of hardship, plus her father’s allowing her an opportunity to go to school makes her a strong character in her narrative poetry. On the other hand, Hester’s character plays the sinner who must wear the “Scarlet Letter,” a symbol of sin on her chest. She is an example sent to lead the parish away from sin. Despite Hester’s ability to transcend the symbolism of the Scarlet Letter, she rarely attempts to, more often she wears grey drab clothing and a cap over her hair. In addition, she feeds the poor in order to create a more domestic life for herself. By standing tall throughout all these adversities, Hester becomes a strong character.
American Literature, “The Norton Anthology Seventh Edition” vol. A ed. Nina Baym, New York London, 2007.
American Literature, “The Norton Anthology Seventh Edition” vol. B ed. Nina Baym, New York London, 2007.
Bloom, Harold. Major Library Characters: Hester Prynne, “An Analysis of Character.” Net Library, (search Puritan Women) Hester Prynne, Contents. New York, Chelsea House Publishers, 1990. (p. ix)
Gordon, Charlotte. “Why I Wrote Mistress Bradstreet.” The Author, Hachette Book Group USA, 2007. http://www.hachettebookgroupusa.com/authorslounge/articles/2005/february/article20180.html
Gordon, Charlotte. Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America’s First Poet. Little, Brown & Co. 2006.
Magda on December 29, 2014:
Very valid, pithy, suctincc, and on point. WD.
Susy on December 28, 2014:
Superbly ilumninatilg data here, thanks!