What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger. A Rhetorical Analysis of Song Lyrics
Imagine if one day after an exhausting game, your coach comes up to you and says, “You didn’t play well today, you better do better next time.” How would you receive this comment? Would you let it lower your self-esteem or use it to better yourself? Adversity is interpreted differently by everyone who encounters it, but it eventually builds one’s character. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, The Scarlet Letter, he introduces the protagonist, Hester Prynne, as a beautiful and strong woman who utilizes her sin of adultery to reconstruct her reputation to the society. Despite the personal burden inflicted from her sin, Hester doesn’t allow hardship to break her, but instead, through her charitable works, proves that light can still shine in dark moments.
In The Scarlet Letter, Hester confesses and allows her experience to help her overcome and become resilient. According to Konnikova, “Every frightening event, no matter how negative it might seem from the sidelines, has a potential to be traumatic or not to the person experiencing it.” A personal event has the ability to be torturous to one self depending on how high the level is set for an event to be considered traumatic. For some people the same event might not be treated with the same importance because they have suffered greater adversities that are equally or even at times worse than the circumstances.
The previous event shows how through a hardship, people become stronger and more resilient to later be able to face more challenging obstacles. Hester too takes control of her traumatic event. “She accepts the designation of adulteress, she accepts it on her own terms, turning it into a more complex symbol, one that does justice to the inseparable conjunction of something guilty and something vital and fertile in her passionate way” (Wagenknecht 65). Instead of letting the incident of her sin of adultery consume her, Hester proves that by accepting one's hardships, one can rise above by accepting their faults and learn from their mistakes. Even so that she alters the view of the scarlet letter as a way to understand those sins of the sinners around her.
Desteno explains that “Having known suffering in life usually heightens the compassion we feel for others....” Hawthorne demonstrates this theory when he says, “She shuddered to believe, her could not help believing, that it gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the sin in other hearts” (59). Hester is astonished that as a result of her scarlet letter, she has the ability to connect with people who have sins of their own.
Despite being ridiculed and mocked by the townspeople, Hester is not ashamed of the scarlet letter placed upon her bosom, and continues to work for the good of her community. Hester does not let her sin isolate herself from the community, but instead uses her skill of embroidery, which is excellently exemplified in the scarlet letter which she wears, as a way to connect and continue involving herself with society. Hawthorne explains that “Her needle work was seen on the ruff of the governor; military men wore it on their scarfs, and the minister on his band; it decked the baby’s little cap...”(57). As a result of Hester overcoming her adversity, “... as time passed, many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength. ...Hester Prynne seems at once to share the community’s judgement upon her, yet to accept herself with her past and her destiny intact” (Wagenknecht 65).
Wagenknecht reveals that through Hester acknowledging her faults and not letting it consume her, the townspeople eventually pardoned Hester and recognized her strength. If people hold on and keep reminding themselves of their flaws, then other people won’t help but to notice them too. Hester is an example of how having a good relationship with oneself, leads to good relationships with others, when she accepts the scarlet letter and soon enough so do the townspeople. Desteno supports this by saying that “Having strong social relationships is one of the best predictors of psychological well-being in the long run, and so anything that enhances your bonds with others — like expressing compassion for them — makes you more resilient.” Therefore, having strong relationships with others not only leads to a better wellbeing, but it will eventually make one able to rebound from any difficulty with more ease.
No matter how a situational plays out, whether it is a nasty comment from a coach or a mean look from the popular girl at school, or even something as difficult as losing a loved one, adversity always wins by shaping one into a stronger more resilient version of oneself. Hester demonstrates how she does not allow for the burden of her sin to break her, but instead uses her adversity for the better of the community and shows how light can come from darkness. Hester provides an excellent illustration for Kelly Clarkson’s famous lyrics, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Desteno, David. “The Funny Thing About Adversity.” The New York Times, The New York
Times, 16 Oct. 2015.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Dover Publications, 2018.
“Kelly Clarkson – Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You).” Genius, 17 Jan. 2012,
Konnikova, Maria. “How People Learn to Become Resilient.” The New Yorker, The New
Yorker, 21 Feb. 2019.
Wagenknecht, Edward. “Characters in The Scarlet Letter.” Readings on The Scarlet Letter,
Greenhaven Press, 1998.