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Remember that this society, the Puritan Separatists, defined themselves as the pure example of Christianity in the world. They, therefore, could not tolerate imperfection within their midst. The inherent problem with this is that, in order for there to be saints, there must be an ample supply of sinners to provide contrast.
The "reduced" sentence given to Hester creates in her the required scapegoat upon which the sins of the town can be placed. There is no mechanism for forgiveness in this society, therefore, if Hester had been executed, there would have to be another to come along soon, so the culture could routinely purge itself.
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