Does Hester's elaborate embroidery on her letter A indicate a rejection or an acceptance of the community's views of her act? Explain. Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Hester Pyrnne is, perhaps, the earliest feminist of American Literature.  In an act of defiance against the restrictive Puritan rule, Hester embroiders her figurative brand put upon her by Puritan rule with as much flourish and brillance of color and thread that she can.  This beauty of the symbol of her sin stands in marked contrast to the environment of her grey, iron Puritan society:

A throng of bearded men, in sad-coloured garments, and grey, 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.

With the "elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread," Hester sets herself further apart in her defiance and declaration of self from her grey, restrictive, narrow society as she stands on the scaffold.  Her dress and letter's design indicate Hester's passionate nature that will not subject itself to control by mores of her society, public humiliation notwithstanding:

It was so artistically done with so much fertility and gorgeous luxurance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendour in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.....Her attire, which, indeed, she had wrought for the occasion, in prison, and had modelled much after her own fancy, seemed to express the attitude of her spirit, the desperate recklessness of her mood,, by its wild and picturesque peculiarity. (Chapter I)

In addition, she exhibits this rebelliousness against her society in the way she dresses her child, Pearl, who is also a symbol of her passionate nature.  The pretty girl wears scarlet when presented to Governor Bellingham in Chapter VIII:

'What have we here?' said Governor Bellingham, lookin with surpirse at the scarlet little figure before him....

'Ay, indeed!' cried good old Mr. Wilson. 'What little bird of scarlet plumage may this be? Methinks I have seen just such figures, when the sun has been shining through a richly painted window, and tracing out the golden and crimson imaes across the floor. [stained-glass windows in the Anglican churches] But that was in the old land.  Prithee, young one, who art thou, and what has ailed thy mother to bedizen thee in this strange fashion?  Art thou  Christian child-ha? ....Or art thou one of those...we though to have left behind us, with other relics of Papistry....

This mention of "ailed thy mother" and "Papistry" signify the recognition of Reverend Wilson of Hester's rebellion against Puritan rule.  For, it was the Catholic/Anglican Church against whom the Anabaptists, who came to be known as Puritans in America, revolted, rejecting what they saw as corrupting vanity and pagentry of this Church as they sought to "purify" religion.

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