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Pearl in Chapter 2 -"The Market-Place

In his lecture "The Meanings of Hawthorne's Women," Richard Millington suggests that Hawthorne's "heroic women," such as Hester Prynne, explore the possibility of an ethical life through both engagement with the community and challenges to its values.

For me, Hawthorne uses his admirable or formidable female characters to represent an adequately complex and comparatively free relation to life. Such a relation would, of course, include a healthy sexuality (sexuality understood by Hawthorne, I think, as a particularly complex emotional terrain and a key target of a culture's ordering schemes). But I think the key issue for Hawthorne, and the heroic possibility at once evoked and mourned or yearned for through the bleak careers of his heroic women, is that of a more freely chosen, more adequately imagined, more powerfully ethical life. This is, of course, clearest in The Scarlet Letter, in which Hester not only keeps alive and at last momentarily expresses a glorious erotic life, but in doing so exemplifies what it might mean to locate a life at once subversive of and engaged with one's community. Such a life, one notices, is precisely what Dimmesdale-a victim, one might propose, of his deep affiliation to the power system whose norms he has violated-cannot compass. Such a life, we might also observe, is the goal of the narrator of "The Custom House," who, in seeking to become a "citizen of somewhere else" allies himself to Hester across the boundaries of gender. So: If we join the critique of masculinity we witness in the stories to the creation of a character like Hester, we might conclude that Hawthorne's women operate as a powerfully moving and constructive expressers of the alternative values these fictions endorse and yearn for.

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