What is most remarkable about The Scarlet Letter
's Hester Prynne is her strength of character. Her inner strength, her defiance of convention, her honesty, and her compassion may have been in her character all along, but the scarlet letter brings them to our attention.
She is, in the end, a survivor.
We first meet the incredibly strong Hester on the scaffold with Pearl in her arms, beginning her punishment. On the scaffold, she displays a sense of irony and contempt. The irony is present in the elaborate needlework of the scarlet letter. There are "fantastic flourishes of gold-thread," and the letter is ornately decorative, significantly beyond the colony's laws that call for somber, unadorned attire. The first description of Hester notes her "natural dignity and force of character" and mentions specifically the haughty smile and strong glance that reveal no self-consciousness of her plight. While she might be feeling agony as if "her heart had been flung into the street for them all to spurn and trample upon," her face reveals no such thought, and her demeanor is described as "haughty." She displays a dignity and grace that reveals a deep trust in herself.
What is the source of this strength? As she walks out on the scaffold at the beginning of the novel, Hester determines that she must "sustain and carry" her burden forward "by the ordinary resources of her nature, or sink with it. She could no longer borrow from the future to help her through the present." Her loneliness is described in Chapter 5 as she considers how she can support herself and Pearl, a problem that she solves with her needlework. Yet she continues to lack adult companionship throughout her life. She has nothing but her strength of spirit to sustain her. This inner calm is recognized in the changing attitude of the community when they acknowledge that the A is for "Able," "so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength."