In Chapter 2: The Market Place, why is the young Puritan woman more sympathetic to Hester Prynne than the older Puritan women?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 2 of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, we find Hester Prynne facing the women of the settlement, or the "goodwives", as they are dubbed.

In this scene, Hester enters holding the little Pearl. She is described for the first time in the story in her most feminine and most striking pose. She looks at them shyly but assertively, and she holds Pearl more in a protective way than in a motherly way. She knows that her society equals trouble.

This being said, there is one of the goodwives who basically says that it is not fair for Hester to be forced to wear a symbol of shame in her bosom in public. That Hester will always have that shame in her heart: Why make it a public matter?

O, 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.”

This is a very clever inclusion in the chapter. It is a sign of the progressive and steady changes going in the settlement with the advent of the newer and younger generations.

In The Scarlet Letter, the story begins in the present and reverts to the past while comparing and contrasting society then and now. All through the novel you get an atmosphere of something about to change, about to take place. The young wife is a sign of those times: No longer will the settlers continue to hold to their old and archaic values. There is hope in the horizon; a young and coming generation that will learn to respect individuality and accept the rights of others.

The young woman, unfortunately, is scorned by her elders. However, it is significant that we hear that voice of progress among the shadows of puritanism.

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The Scarlet Letter

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