Describe Hester Prynne's state of mind in chapters 1-3 of The Scarlet Letter.  How has she decided she and Pearl will live their lives?

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perfectsilence's profile pic

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Hester's state of mind is initially visible in the way she leaves the prison.  When Hester first emerges in chapter 2, her initial reaction is to hold little Pearl up to conceal the scarlet letter that Hester must wear on her bosom.  Hawthorne writes

In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbours.

After a brief moment where she nearly conveys the reaction that the judgmental townspeople want her to convey, she makes a point to not let them shame her.  Further, her clothing and her needlework on the letter itself also show that she has already taken steps to avoid appearing in the way they want.  The letter itself, the mark of shame, is "so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration."  Rather than try to hide it she has made it beautiful, deliberately sewing it in such a way to draw the eye to it.  This further helps to establish her desire to present a strong, deliberate mindset.

As Hester walks toward the scaffold on which she must stand, she continues to display her "haughty" demeanor, not allowing her inner turmoil to show through.  Despite this, as she stands atop the scaffold "she felt, at moments, as if she must needs shriek out with the full power of her lungs, and cast herself from the scaffold down upon the ground, or else go mad at once."  She then takes her mind off of the punishment by thinking back to many of the significant parts of her life: her meager upbringing, her marriage to an older scholar, and the travel to the New World.  She thinks of the major life events leading up to the current moment; as she returns to the present, she is shocked to think of what her life has become, at which time

She clutched the child so fiercely to her breast, that it sent forth a cry; she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and the shame were real. Yes!—these were her realities,—all else had vanished!

Hester continues to try to remain steady, but is shaken again as she recognizes her husband, Chillingworth, in the crowd.  Here "she was conscious of a shelter in the presence of these thousand witnesses. It was better to stand thus, with so many betwixt him and her, than to greet him, face to face, they two alone."  As terrible as the moment is, it is better than being alone with him.

Finally, as Hester is questioned by the clergy, she shows her steadfastness once again.  Reverend Dimmesdale presents a number of strong points; in some ways it would be easier for her to reveal her "fellow sinner," so that she would have someone suffering through the public shaming with her.  However, she refuses to utter his name, stating that she would rather bear the punishment for both of them than have him subjected to the public shaming and ridicule.  It is in her refusal to reveal the father of Pearl that she also shows how she and Pearl will live their lives.  She says "would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine!” and also that "my child must seek a heavenly Father; she shall never know an earthly one!"  In short: she will suffer alone for the sin, and as a result, Pearl will never know her earthly father.  Hester will raise Pearl, alone, to the best of her ability.

gpane's profile pic

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In these chapters we see Hester Prynne come out of the prison to stand in the pillory, subject to intense public scrutiny and social disapproval. It is a terrible ordeal for her, but she remains in a quite strong and defiant frame of mind throughout. Her defiance is most evident when at the end chapter three she refuses to name the father of her illegitimate child Pearl. She appears quite determined that she and Pearl will not be intimidated by society; she takes her punishment but she remains independent in spirit.

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