The Scarlet Letter what does it say about the community of Boston that they (initially) take Hester as a "witch" (i.e., evil person), but cannot see that an actual witch (Mistress Hibbins) lives among them?
In writing The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne consistently points out the double standards in the life of the puritans in rural New England towards the early 17th century.
Hawthorne lists, among the many flaws of the puritans the following tendencies:
- allowing Gov. Bellingham to live in opulence while accepting his sermons of vowing for poverty and simplicity.
- having double standards depending on rank: most women would wear their bonnets and demure clothing, while the "genteel" women would order flamboyant clothes from Hester.
- noticing flaws in others while committing sins themselves. i.e, the women standing at the jail condemning Hester while they vituperously insulted her.
Hence, it comes to no surprise that another double standard would come when the collective "secret" of the town is seen in open view: that the sister of none other than Gov. Bellingham is also a practicing witch who seems to like to annoy the villagers as she minds their everyday business.
It is simpler to take on the weakest link: Hester. With no family, power, nor any type of leverage in the community, any flaw that she commits would hurt her more than anyone else. She has no voice to defend herself, nor anyone to support her. Meanwhile, Mistress Hibbins is allowed to be herself precisely because of the power of her brother. It is a "small town" collective tendency to overlook the obvious wrongs if they come from someone important in the community. It is no different than when modern society overlooks the obvious debauchery and dysfunctional life of a superstar while pointing the same mistakes at a much graver level in regular people.