Describe the Puritan women in The Scarlet Letter using one quote from the book.

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munarriz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hawthorne seems to select only the harshest words for the Puritan women who surround Hester as she walks toward the scaffold early in The Scarlet Letter. He says, "The witnesses of Hester Prynne's disgrace had not yet passed beyond their simplicity." These words seem to indicate a limit to their understanding. Their judgment is single-minded and perhaps even somewhat lowly or common as they have not evolved past their "simplicity."

As Hester makes her final approach to the scaffold, Hawthorne adds that she does so "under the heavy weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes, all fastened upon her." Here, the Puritan women who observe the scene are singularly described as judgmental and entirely uncompromising. Hester is bearing the weight of her sin, she is carrying her infant, the result of her sin, and she is wearing the scarlet letter on her chest, a symbol of her sin. Still, the women are not described to exhibit compassion. They merely add the weight of their judgment upon her to the list of punishments Hester will now carry.

Most interestingly, Hawthorne mentions that a Papist in the crown might observe Hester carrying the child and connect it to a "Divine Maternity." Hawthorne seems to suggest that Hester and her infant appear as beautiful and innocent as the Virgin Mary and her infant, Jesus. This comparison is not made to contrast the Catholic and Puritan view, but instead to reflect that the Puritan women who judge her so harshly have no aesthetic reason to do so since the scene itself is serene and even beautiful.

shannonsuddath eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hawthorne describes the women who wait for Hester's public shaming to begin as "the ugliest as well as the most pitiless of these self constituted judges."  The women are, for the most part, the more severe of those who seek to shame our heroine.  They lament the fact that Hester is not punished appropriately via death or branding and feel the men are kind.  Hester's beauty and spirit are of issue to the women, who must feel insecure about their own husbands as they look at this beautiful, talented, and vibrant woman holding a child with an unknown father.  This, coupled with their mercy, must have put them at odds with their own confidence in their fine, upstanding husbands. 

katemschultz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The beginning of Chapter Two of "The Scarlet Letter" tells a lot about the Puritan women--you can pull a quote from there, perhaps one near the end of the women's conversation where the man injects or the one from the old woman right before that. In summary, Hawthorne tell the reader that the older Puritan women were strong, beefy women from England. As the generations passed, the women became frailer and more pale. This is also reflected in their personalities. The older women are saying that Hester should have been given to them for a better (more crueler and deserving) punishment. The younger women are more apt to be kind and make excuses for Hester.

dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hawthorne's description of the majority of the females in the town give a vivid image of the cruel and self-righteous attitude they possessed. The women stand outside and discuss the "hussy" and the horrible sin she committed. The conversation Hawthorne creates among the women, leaves such an absence of compassion on the part of these women, the reader cannot help but fill that void. Through these women Hawthorne gives the reader shades of Puritanism, however he allows the reader to assess the experiences against their own emotions.

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The Scarlet Letter

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