The first description that the reader gets of Hester Prynne is that she is a woman of strength and beauty that was uncommon of the time. However, this seemingly perfect woman has one terrible flaw, the scarlet letter. This brand of sin slowly takes its toll on the femininity of Hester Prynne, transforming her from a woman of elegance to a woman stained with sin.
As Hester Prynne steps out of the prison repelling the helping of hand of the beadle, the reader is instantly shocked by the natural dignity that this aberrant woman possesses. Prynne is described as having perfect elegance, beautiful richness of complexion feminine gentility and indescribable grace . It is clear that she is anything but the typical Bostonian woman. This description is in extreme contrast to that of the description of the other pitiless and self-constituted judges . At this time in her life Prynne embodies feminism, from the smallest strand of her glossy hair to the elegance of her needlework. Unfortunately, Prynne would not be able to keep her feminine qualities in tact for long.
Halfway through the novel the toll of being the outcast of society for such a long time clearly starts to take effect on Prynne. Some attribute had departed from her, the permanence of which had been essential to keep her a woman . This transformation has taken place because of the inhumane treatment Prynne had been subject to. She feels extreme shame of her brand, dreadful agony in feeling a human eye upon the token , and worst of all ignominy. There is nothing worse in life than experiencing ignominy for prolonged periods of time, not even death. The constant bombardment upon Prynne s soul has cause her being to alter to a state of "marble coldness". The only warmth Prynne had left in her life was Pearl and her needlework. However, since Prynne saw her needlework as a pleasure and because she had dedicated her life to penance, she was unable to take comfort in this small task. Sadly, because of her intertwined fate with the scarlet letter, her coldness will take over her personality for the rest of the novel except for one glimmer of light in which her romantic beauty will shine one last time.
Many novelists often use the forest as a place of freedom, happiness, and illumination. In the romantic era the forest is also forgiving, peaceful, natural, and it also represents everything holy in her world. The forest is exactly what Pyrnne needs to cope with the stress of everyday Puritan life. This is why the reader sees the change in Hester Prynne s personality from coldness to Her sex, her youth, and the whole richness of her beauty coming back from what men call the irrevocable past , when she enters the forest. It is also important to understand the transformation Prynne went through could only have taken place in the forest. This metamorphosis occurs only after the scarlet letter is removed from her chest. When she violently flings the crimson A towards the river the burden of shame and anguish departed and the unbearable weight was lifted off her spirit. Thus, the scarlet letter had not only caused shame , but also the repression of her woman hood.
A timeless symbol of feminism is a woman s hair. This motif was first introduced when Prynne came out of the prison door. When Hawthorne introduces Prynne s femininity, it is no mistake that Hawthorne does not fail to mention her hair that threw off sunshine with a gleam . However, after the A has become one with Hester, she hides her magnificent hair under a gray hat. Gray is a symbol of everything bad and Puritan in the novel. This is why it is important to see the change that occurs in the forest scene, where color and sunshine is abundant, when Prynne takes of her hat and lets her glossy hair transform her back to her original beauty. Unfortunately, this freedom that the forest gives Prynne does not last long. As soon as she puts back on the scarlet letter and she is turned back into a woman filled with marble coldness .
The last description Hawthorne gives about Prynne s feminism is after seven years of wearing the brand. Even though the Bostonians have stopped looking upon her with utter disgust, her femininity has completely vanished. She is now characterized as a woman stained with sin, bowed down with shame, or even burdened with a life-long sorrow . The final chapters talk nothing of her femininity because there is none to talk about. The transformation from what used to be a stunning woman, in a distant past, to an empty shell is now complete. There is nothing left of Hester Prynne except a whisper of what she used to be.
Over the course of seven long years laced with ignominy and shame, the scarlet letter definitely served at least one purpose, the desolation of Hester Prynne s femininity. Even though the scarlet letter was not the only reason why Hester lost her feminism, (there were other contributing factors such as not revealing two agonizing secrets that were slowing deteriorating her soul and hurting the only people she cherished, childbearing and the work that is involved with raising a child, especially Pearl were present) it was the major contributing factor. Notwithstanding the eventual outcome of Hester s femininity, her strength of mind and body did prolong the inevitable, just not long enough to escape the constant torment of ignominy with her loved ones.