Nineteenth Century Women Authors – English Essay
Nineteenth Century women characters and authors fight with many of the same social norms that give way to a later women’s social revolution. Transcendentalists were fighting for the freedom of slaves and it was only natural that those women of the movement would identify with this cause. Even though social oppression doesn’t have the same negative
connotation as a word like slavery it was enslaving the minds, hearts, and finances of Nineteenth Century women and characters.
Margaret Fuller was an author, critic, editor and teacher who possessed great influence on American women. She was a brilliant and highly educated member of the Transcendentalist movement; she challenged the world both intellectually and emotionally. Women who attended her lectures found Fuller’s influence life-changing. Her works profoundly affected the women’s rights movements.
Hester Prynne is the main character of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s romantic novel, The Scarlet Letter, which is set in seventeenth-century Puritan New England. As a young woman, Hester married an elderly scholar, Roger Chillingworth, who sent her ahead to America to live but never followed. While waiting for him, she had an affair with a Puritan minister, after which she gave birth to Pearl. Hester is immediately ostracized from the stern community and endures years of loneliness. From this alienated point she is able to make observations about her community, particularly about its treatment of women.
There seems to be a connection. Hester is a fictional character who is shunned from her community as punishment for her adulterous sins. In contrast Fuller was a highly educated writer and critic who played an important role in the American Renaissance in literature and to mid-nineteenth century reform movements. However, both are forced to suppress their own emotional needs because there was no room for this kind of expression in the strict Puritan community.
Every human being needs the opportunity to express their feelings; otherwise the emotions are bottled up and locked away. Unfortunately, Puritan society did not permit any kind of emotional expression, thus the characters had to seek alternate means to relieve their personal desires. Luckily, for at least some of the main characters, Hawthorne provides a sanctuary in the form of the mysterious forest. It provides an escape from the strict mandates of law and religion, to a refuge where men, as well as women, can open up and be themselves.
Here in the forest we see the real Hester, who has been hidden for years under a shield of shame.
It was this alienation that put Hester in a unique position. She was able to look upon society from the outside, and make acute observations about the community, particularly about its treatment of women. The text describes Fuller in a similar way. A seemingly modern American intellectual figure that was conflicted and alienated. However Fuller was a great thinker who, despite or because of her alienation, looked hopefully to popular, social transformations. Almost as though the life of Margaret Fuller was the kind of life that Hester Prynne dreamed of living.
Perhaps Hester deserves more credit than she thinks. Who knows what she could have achieved for the rights of women and social reformation had she lived in the nineteenth century, and, like Fuller spent great deals of time reading, thinking, and writing. Hester Prynne could have been a revolutionary.
The saddest part of The Scarlet Letter is Hester’s repression by the Puritans. Without these constraints, her intellect could have blossomed. Just as women who attended Margaret Fuller’s talks found her influence life-changing, the women of Hester Prynne’s community came to her home for advice and comfort in times of hardship and frustration. It is not difficult to see Hester transformed several hundred years into our own present, conducting something like a women’s rally. Another parallel between these two women is the way they placed their own best judgment before any religious doctrine. However, despite their different backgrounds, Hester Prynne and Margaret Fuller seem to have had similar characters. Both suffered alienation during their lifetimes, and both realized injustices in society as a result of this isolation. The main difference between them was that Margaret Fuller had the opportunity to express her ideas, whereas Hester, a woman stained by sin, had no chance.