In chapter 17, Dimmesdale asks Hester if she has found peace. She does not answer and just smiles. Does Hester find peace through the scarlet letter?

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I'm inclined to believe that Hester does not find peace in the novel. The fact that she feels compelled to return to Boston, to her cottage, and to the place where she is known for her sin, seems to indicate that she could not find peace in a different locale. Further, the narrator describes her as she returns to her home, saying,

On the threshold she paused,—turned partly round,—for, perchance the idea of entering all alone, and all so changed, the home of so intense a former life, was more dreary and desolate than even she could bear.

Thus, she does not seem happy to return, but, rather, she seems obligated by some personal sense of responsibility to do so. She does not smile, as though she feels peacefully, but, instead, she seems affected by how dreary her life will be now. "Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her penitence." If she is still repenting for her sin, then it seems likely that she has not yet achieved peace with it yet. Further, she keeps the scarlet letter on her breast for the rest of her life, and this would seem to indicate that she does not yet feel at peace with some aspect of her past: perhaps the sin itself, perhaps her relationship with Dimmesdale, perhaps his death.

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Hester finds peace through the acceptance of her own humanity with all its limitations.  Hester accepts the punishment of the community because she knows that she has violated one of their regulations; violation of the legitimate regulations of any community can result in legitimate punishment.  Her often quoted line, by me at least, "What we did had a consecration of its own" explains how she has made peace.  Unlike Dimmesdale, who is supported by an "iron framework" of belief that, while supporting him confined himself in his own prison, Hester believes that what they did, while wrong in the eyes of the community, was "consecrated," a word with very specific religious connotations.

Hester finds peace within herself, with her knowledge or belief that there was something "sacred" (consecrated) in what they had done.  This forgiveness is beyond Dimmesdale, and because of this he will never experience the peace that Hester found.

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