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What are the three main characteristics of Puritan women as depicted in The Scarlet...

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neene-kk | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 17, 2009 at 3:46 AM via web

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What are the three main characteristics of Puritan women as depicted in The Scarlet Letter?

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timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted May 17, 2009 at 9:53 AM (Answer #1)

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There are different groups of women in the Puritan community.  The older women presented at the first scaffold scene are harsh judges of Hester's sin.  Not only are the unhappy with the punishement she received, they were equally unhappy with the luxurious "A" that she created to wear as a sign of her sin.

 "She hath good skill at her needle, that's certain," remarked one of her female spectators; "but did ever a woman, before this brazen hussy, contrive such a way of showing it? Why, gossips, what is it but to laugh in the faces of our godly magistrates, and make a pride out of what they, worthy gentlemen, meant for a punishment?"

 "It were well," muttered the most iron-visaged of the old dames, "if we stripped Madame Hester's rich gown off her dainty shoulders; and as for the red letter which she hath stitched so curiously, I'll bestow a rag of mine own rheumatic flannel to make a fitter one!"

On the other hand, there are younger Puritan women who, perhaps because of failings of their own, or at least feelings that have no died, understand that, glorious as the letter may appear, it has caused her great suffering and will continue to do so.

"Oh, peace, neighbours--peace!" whispered their youngest companion; "do not let her hear you! Not a stitch in that embroidered letter but she has felt it in her heart.

Thus you have older, more judgmental women, for whom the sin of Hester is no longer a possibility, and who come from an era that they probably see as much stricter and more disciplined, and the younger women who belong to a new generation and who are more sympathetic than their elders.

If there is a third type of woman, it is Hester.  She is the woman who understands the role of law in religion and accepts its social consequences, but who has a law of her own in her heart, a law that separates her from those who  believe that law and religion were the same:

In either case, there was very much the same solemnity of demeanour on the part of the spectators, as befitted a people among whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful.

Hester is the new woman that is foreshadowed, perhaps, in the 1848 Seneca Falls convention that occured just two years before the publication of "The Scarlet Letter." 

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