How Traditions Affect Women in The Scarlet Letter and The Awakening Essay Example

  • Category: Literature, Novels,
  • Words: 1235 Pages: 5
  • Published: 07 June 2021
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The Lifestyles of women have been guided by a wooden stick from the threshold of tradition, and the largest factor for the continuation of the beliefs in tradition is the ridicule that follows through with the apprehension of concrete beliefs. The strictness of tradition forces people, especially women to not go out of their way to do what pleases them. Novels like The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Awakening by Kate Chopin divulge into the actions of women who struggle to live their lives prosperously because of unethical desires built inside them. Each reading selection had women contemplating their decisions, and ultimately the reader had to decide alongside the character if their decisions was worth becoming an outcast from society. Both Edna Pontellier and Hester Prynne dived into an awakening of some sorts, and this new take on life lead to two different responses from the characters. Throughout the selections both authors give hints into their beliefs of tradition and what they do to women, but the perspective of each female character shows the internal struggles that women have been facing for centuries that no person can physically see.

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne vividly describes the societal reaction to untraditional actions like adultery. Hester Prynne’s actions are exposed to the world because of her sex induced actions with a man that was not her husband, and unfortunately because of the strict values of the puritans of Massachusetts Hester Prynne is completely shunned from every person in this society. This section from The Scarlet Letter describes the new loneliness of Hester's life, “Mother”, said little Pearl, “the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something in your bosom....It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!” (chap 16). This quote from Hesters daughter instates the position Hester is in the world because of the scarlet letter that has been placed on her chest. She is so disregarded in this world that even the sun, something that should always graze someone in this world feints to even associate with Hester.

In The Scarlet Letter most thought processes are guided by the beliefs of religion, and this is why Hester becomes humiliated by the towns people once it is unveiled that she performed adultery. Nathaniel Hawthorne shows how quickly a woman could fall towards shame in a belief system like religion, but the author also gives hints into how the actions were to be perceived if a man was in our protagonist shoes. Arthur Dimmesdale, the man who committed adultery with Hester Prynne, did not receive the same amount of ridicule as his female counterpart. And while some people might argue that Dimmesdale was let off because of his social status there is no doubt that a woman in same position of influence would be completely torn down if they were found to be guilty of adultery. The strictness of the puritan beliefs made Hester unable to reach the original life before she cheated in her husband, but this did not stop her from aiding and living a charitable lifestyle that made her comfortable. What Nathaniel Hawthorne alludes to in this story is that while traditions are inclined to make people, especially women, feel terrible about their mistakes they can still live a prosperous life. Hester Prynne’s awakening came with a consequence, and that came with an embroidered embarrassment that let the world know of her unlawfulness. But by the end of the story we find nothing bothering Hester around the passionate action that brought her the negative spotlight throughout the entire novel.

The Awakening

The Awakening by Kate Chopin follows Edna Pontellier in her journey to be content with her new love life after her marriage with Leonce Pontellier. There is an obvious cultural difference between the lifestyles of the couple,  and Mr. Pontellier takes notice of this very early on in their relationship. Unfortunately for their marriage Edna throughout the novel finds herself in adoration with Robert Lebrun. Like the Scarlett Letter, Edna is faced with the challenge of choosing desire over what is believed to be ethical, but as through the novel progress’ we find Edna eager to be as free and open as the water that she admires in the novel. Edna has issues in conforming to the culture of the Creole, like the need for women to follow certain roles, and this need to follow certain lifestyles halts the progression of women into being free of expression.

The beliefs in this culture are widely accepted and this idea is backed by the characteristics of outside characters in the novel like Madame Ratignolle and Robt Lebrun. An example of the difference of character dynamic comes in the discussion about children between Edna and Madame Ratignolle , “I would give up the unessential; I would give up my money, I would my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself. I can’t make it more clear; it’s only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing to me.” “I don’t know what you would call the essential, or what you mean by the unessential” , said Madame Ratignolle, cheerfully;’’but a women who would give their life for her children would do more than that –your bible tells you so. I’m sure I couldn’t do more than that.” There is an obvious devotion to the lifestyle that Madame follows and it is clearly influenced by the beliefs of the Creole, but Madame Ratifnolle never speaks for herself and often follows suit to the average commodities of a perfect Creole woman..

The challenge for Edna was attempting to be progressive in a society that has no intentions of improving their culture accommodations. Both Robert and Edna have feelings for each other in this novel, but because of the unethical and transgressive nature of their desires both characters are deprived of a love that could have happened in a distant acceptive culture. Robert’s confrontation of his feelings would have been the same reaction of the Creole , and Edna was fully aware his reasoning.Sadly with a disconnection with society and her children and husband masking the role of a women that she did not want to follow the novel presumes Edna Pontellier as dead after a convincing suicide into the freedom of the ocean. Kate Chopin in this novel attempts to spread that message that following the road of tradition leads to no progress in people’s lifestyles. And while some change might be sought out by awakened people , there will yet be no improvements if a set of rules is always followed by a populous. Situations like Edna’s become very difficult to come out of because essentially it is one person against the world , and even if they act out on something they believe is wrong or right the reciprocal will always depend on what the world believes is right. 


Both The Scarlet letter and The Awakening deal with the themes of how traditions and beliefs impact women, and any altercation by a female in a mans world follows through with ridicule and unbearable living circumstances as seen in the Scarlet Letter. Nathaniel Hawthorne motivates woman to believe that if they can stand the deceit and hate than they should act out and do what they please for their well being. On the other hand Kate Chopin lets women know that some actions will be unconventional in a rule abiding society, but these desires can only work if you are not the only person who has the conjecture to make yourself feel whole. Women have received the short end of a stick for hundreds of years , and there has been some steady but hopeful advancements for women in societies because of the acceptance as equals. The loss of traditional roles all around the world have given women the chance to not be judge of the actions because of the understand most beliefs are undated and unconventional.



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