Hester Prynne and Nora Helmer: A Comparative Analysis

“I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

That is a line from the book turned into movie, The Great Gatsby. In the years I have been here wandering in the world, virtual and real, I have been slapped in the face by the incandescent standards of the universe and its littlest portion on how women should be. A woman is always portrayed as a gift from the skies, pretty and elegant, or a royalty in distress saved by a hero who makes her swoon, or an evil witch behind every man’s failure. But a woman is not a gift, she is not a possession, she is not an asset. A woman is not someone to be saved, if she is to be protected, then from what?

Back to the criticism, this essay leads to compare two iconic female characters from classic literary pieces, “The Scarlet Letter” and “A Doll’s House”: Hester Prynne and Nora Helmer. Their similarities and differences are simplified in the succeeding bullets:

• Physical beauty

Hester Prynne and Nora Helmer are two women depicted as beautiful and doll-like. Hester Prynne, although not of elite upbringing, is dazzling in her youth that she had Chillingworth marry her to give an accent to his name. Chillingworth thought of marrying Hester a good chunk on his personality for he is known to be physically unattactive (but interesting) aside form him being too smart for anything. The same is true in Nora’s case. Torvald, her husband, married her for the same reason: beautification of his name and image. Nora is beautiful and is a good accessory to his ego. They were both chosen to be trophies and not wives.

• Sacrificial tendencies

They say that women always sacrifice for the people they love. And that sacrifice thing is observed on both characters. Hester sacrificed not just her life but her whole dignity as a person. She was tormented by the public eye, considering the society she belongs in (she actually chose to stay there). The Puritan society believes on life as a way of torment and punishment, and so “sins” are paid off in life on earth, hence making it a dimension of hell. She took all the blame on Pearl’s existence, which is a fruit of infidelity to her husband. While, Nora on the other hand tried to save her husband, which is a mortal sin on their times. She signed (forged) a signature to have access on banking procedures, which is an act viewed as a form of rebellion against the authority of a man over his wife. Women are not allowed to perform and take part on financial aspects even if it concerns her and her family. But they both did it anyway for the man they love. Hester protected Dimmesdale’s name, for he is a clergyman, and Nora tried to protect Torvald for he was sick that time.

The two symbolizes a woman’s change in perspective of her self as they both got out of the stereotype dictated by the society and its people. Nora got out of the doll house, and the chains of his husband’s ball-less-ness to accept that he too needs help, and Hester got of the scarlet’s letter’s barrier. The difference is that, Hester still needed Dimmesdale to be actually freed from the curse of the society, while Nora escaped on her own as she walked out of the house.

A Feminist Criticism Perspective: Hester Prynne and Nora Helmer

In the 19th century, the society was patriarchal, dominated by men, and women were deprived of all their rights. Women were considered dependent on men in all cultural domains of life including the following factors: (a) familial; (b) religious; (c) political; (d) economic; (e) social; (f) legal; and (g) artistic. From then on, the feminist criticism was developed and became one of the most dynamic and influential theories. Mostly, it emphasizes women’s self-awareness, women’s dignity and women’s contribution to the society.

A comparison between the main characters of two different literary pieces is the central focus of this article to analyze them deeply and systematically on the basis of feminist criticism. The controversial women of the novel “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and the play “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen will show how they play their roles in the society.

“I believe that before anything else, I’m a human being, just as much of as you are.” It’s a simple yet powerful line of A Doll’s House’s very own Nora Helmer’s conversation with the person who causes her daily dose of sadness. She is the best representation of the woman who lives in a world where her husband oppresses and defines her only as a doll, an accessory, and a plaything in his life.

The same experience is also evident on the main character of the classical novel titled The Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne’s sacrificial love for the sake of a clergyman with a name called Dimmesdale became one of the reasons of her punishment. By being an adulterous person leads her to become a symbol for sin in the Puritan community that she lives in. Her struggle with the Puritan patriarchs forces her to be a strong and an independent woman.

Of all the sacrifices these women had experienced, Hester and Nora show that they are more of a passionate woman and do not let the male authority ruin their lives. Moreover, they show their passion for what they believe in, they do not abide to how women should act during their time, and they act by the principles they had set up for themselves.

The Scarlet Letter and A Doll’s House were very interesting to analyze as an amazing piece of literature of all time. It was interesting to look at from a feminist criticism point of view because both literary texts were written and set in at a time much different than ours.