The Scarlet Letter: Hester Prynne Quotes - Examples & Analysis

Instructor: Kristin Huston

Kristin has taught college English and composition and has a Ph.D. in Literature and History.

In this lesson, we will take a look at several of Hester Prynne's quotes from Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel 'The Scarlet Letter' and explore how those quotes reflect on the plot and Hester's character.

Drama Among Puritans

The Scarlet Letter is a novel full of scandal and melodrama, which may seem surprising since it's also full of Puritans, who hardly have a reputation as a hard-partying bunch. But Hawthorne's novel revolves around Hester Prynne, whose act of adultery results in the birth of her child, Pearl, and the desire of the community to shame Hester until she names Pearl's father, providing the perfect setup for a soap opera. But Hester maintains her dignity well, and proves to be the strongest and most independent character in the novel.

Hester and Pearl

Hester is forced to wear a scarlet letter 'A' on her bosom at all times, to remind her of her sin. But the community doesn't stop there. In one scene, Hester is fighting with the authority figures from town, including Arthur Dimmesdale (her secret lover / Pearl's father). The men are trying to decide if they should take Pearl away from Hester. We can see Hester's devotion to her daughter when she shrieks 'God gave her into my keeping...I will not give her up!'

Because Pearl is a difficult, opinionated kid with a mind of her own, when they ask her the opening question of the catechism, 'Who made thee?', Pearl responds by telling them her mother plucked her from the rose bush outside her prison. Governor Bellingham grabs Pearl, and Hester takes her back.

The words 'God gave her into my keeping' reflect the dual nature of Pearl's role in Hester's life. Not only is she a gift, allowing Hester to find happiness in her role as mother, but she is a means of torture as well, a constant reminder, just like the 'A' Hester wears, of her adultery. Hester's appeal to Dimmesdale here is notable too. Dimmesdale is Pearl's father, and he does, in this scene, tell the Governor that Pearl is Hester's salvation, but he looks ill as he says it, confirming that Hester's lover is far weaker than she is.

Hester's Husband

Hester's life can sometimes seem like one misfortune after another. When she is punished for adultery after becoming pregnant, who should appear but her husband, who had been assumed lost at sea. Taking the name Roger Chillingworth (a villainous name, indeed!), he makes it his mission to expose Hester's lover.

Hester thinks back on her marriage as she watches Chillingworth, angry that he convinced her to marry him in the first place. ''Be it sin or no,' said Hester Prynne bitterly, as she still gazed after him, 'I hate the man!' And later, ''Yes, I hate him!' repeated Hester, more bitterly than before. 'He betrayed me! He has done me worse wrong than I did him!''

In this moment, Hester acknowledges that she is not the only one who is guilty. Chillingworth, an old, crippled scholar, convinced her that he could make her happy, then sent her off on her own to the New World. Is it any wonder that Hester, a young, beautiful woman, struggled with loneliness when she arrived in Massachusetts?

Asking For Forgiveness

Hester comes to Dimmesdale, asking for forgiveness, saying: ''Thou shalt forgive me!' cried Hester, flinging herself on the fallen leaves beside him. 'Let God punish! Thou shalt forgive!''

Here we see Hester throwing herself to the ground and appealing to her lover, demanding that he forgive her, and reminding him that only God can punish her. This appeal to humanity is especially poignant coming from Hester because her people have repeatedly tried to punish her, most notably through the letter she wears and general treatment she gets.

The Universe Beyond Massachusetts

Sent along to Massachusetts Bay from Europe by her husband, Hester lived on her own for two years before The Scarlet Letter opens. Given that this is the only home she's had in the New World, it would be understandable if she felt tied down to her community. However, when she and Dimmesdale are discussing ways to be free, she says:

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