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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 91

seemed a blasphemy worse than adultery for the lovers to agree, in their meeting at the brookside, that “what we did had a consecration of its own.” These are Hester’s words, and so it was to Hester that eventually “it seemed a fouler offence committed by Roger Chillingworth, than any which had since been done him, that, in the time when her heart knew no better, he had persuaded her to fancy herself happy by his side.” Hester thus becomes the type—subtly individualized but yet a type—of the moving principle of life which different societies in different ways may constrain but which in itself irresistibly endures. Her story is an allegory of the passion through which the race continues. She feels the ignominy which attends her own irregular behavior and accepts her fate as the reward of evil, but she does not understand it so far as to wish uncommitted the act which her society calls a sin. A harder woman might have become an active rebel; a softer woman might have sunk passively down into unavailing penitence. Hester stands erect, and thinks. She asks herself whether women, as life was constituted, could be really happy, even the happiest woman. “As concerned her own individual existence, she had long ago decided in the negative, and dismissed the point as settled.” Yet her mind, though dismissing her particular case as a malady without a cure, still ranges the universe for some cure for the injustice her sex inherits. “The world’s law was no law for her mind.” In this manner those whom the world crushes always take their surest revenge. Hester finds no speculative answer; and so she turns to action, plays her necessary part, and gives herself to the nurture of her child, no less a mother than if approved by every human



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