Hawthorne questions womanly virtue and wonders about its relationship to a "fear of the gallows."  What question is he raising here, and how would you answer it?  

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Among the people who have come to gawk at Hester Prynne, her new baby, and her scarlet "A" is a group of terrible women who insist that her punishment was too merciful and that she ought to be branded with the letter, or, better yet, hanged for her sin.  One man in the crowd utters the line to which you refer when he asks, "Is there no virtue in woman, save what springs from a wholesome fear of the gallows?"  What he's asking, then, is if women are incapable of being virtuous without having to fear the mortal consequences of bad behavior. Put differently: Can women be "good" even if there are no terrible consequences for being bad? 

Although the Puritans believed women to be naturally more lustful and easier to tempt away from God -- this is why they thought women were more likely to be witches than men -- I certainly believe this to be untrue. Women don't need a looming consequence for bad behavior in order to choose good behavior any more than men do.  There will always be people who break laws and do bad things, but I doubt their being men or women has much to do with it.

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The Scarlet Letter

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