Even the very first paragraph of chapter one begins to reveal Hawthorne's disapproval of the Puritans. The narrator says,
A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments, and gray, steeple-crowned hats . . . was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.
His description of their "sad-colored" clothing and "gray, steeple-crowned hats" alerts us right away to a rather depressing level of sobriety and seriousness as well as a too-heavy reliance on the institution of the church rather than a focus on compassion for people. Further, Hawthorne places these sad and gray people in front of the town prison, an imposing edifice that is heavy with oak and spiked with iron. It is difficult to imagine a meaner and more foreboding building than this. It paints a picture of the Puritans themselves as mean and unforgiving.
In chapter two, the narrator describes the "grim rigidity" of the Puritans as well as the "severity" of their character. In fact, "Meagre, indeed, and cold was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for from such bystanders, at the scaffold." In other words, most of the community lacks mercy, patience, and understanding, and is much more apt to judge a sinner than to try to help her. He even calls the women "self-constituted judges" for bickering over Hester Prynne's punishment: one woman wants the "A" branded on Hester's forehead, and another wants to see her executed.
In chapter four, we see that the Puritans imprisoned not only Hester but her infant child as well. This seems especially cruel given how distraught and ill the baby seems to be after Hester's time on the scaffold. It is bad enough that the community lacks mercy and compassion for Hester, but they also cannot even be kind to her innocent child.
For a long time after that, we learn in chapter five, Hester
would become the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they might vivify, and embody their images of women's frailty and sinful passion. Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her . . . as the figure, the body, the reality of sin. And over her grave, the infamy that she must carry thither would be her only monument.
Thus she is made a cautionary tale, and children are warned to never allow themselves to become like her. People stare at her, judging her anew every day, so that Hester cannot even feel safe and comfortable in church. This is a pretty harsh indictment of the Puritans, who ought to believe in the idea that one must not judge, lest one be judged.
In chapter seven, Hester learns that the Puritan elders are planning to take Pearl, her daughter, away from her so that she will not corrupt the child's spirit. Until Reverend Dimmesdale argues on her behalf, people consider taking away the one thing that brings Hester any real joy: her child. This further emphasizes their cruelty and Hawthorne's rejection of them.