How is the attitude of the townspeople toward Hester changed during the seven years since her "crime" was committed?

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Initially, the people of Boston—especially the women—judge Hester very harshly. One woman suggests that the magistrates who decided on Hester's punishment were too lenient and that "'they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne's forehead.'" She calls Hester a number of mean names and is supported by another woman who argues that Hester "has brought shame upon [them] all and ought to die" for it. Merciful and forgiving they are not.

Within a few years, however, people's view of Hester has changed. Whenever someone in the town suffers, "There glimmered the embroidered letter, with comfort it its earthly ray." Hester and her letter come to be much more positively associated. The letter's meaning begins to change, and people "sa[y] that it mean[s] Able, so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength." Instead of being seen as a weak sinner, as she once was, Hester is seen now as a strong woman who comforts others in their need. Now, when strangers arrive in town, people claim Hester:

Do you see that woman with the embroidered badge? . . . It is our Hester—the town's own Hester, who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted!

Instead of shaming her, as they used to, the people of Boston now seem to be proud of Hester and her humble service.

In the very end, after some absence from New England, Hester returns to her little cottage. By now,

The scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world's scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with reverence, too. And, as Hester Prynne had no selfish ends, nor lived in any measure for her own profit and enjoyment, people brought all their sorrows and perplexities, and besought her counsel, as one who had herself gone through a mighty trouble.

Women especially come to seek out Hester's advice and counsel, and she evidently comforts them by speaking of a time when men and women meet one another on more equal ground.

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Hester has become a real boon to her community: when someone is sick, Hester is there to help; when someone is in need, Hester provides.  "None so ready as she to give of her little substance to every demand of poverty [...].  None so self-devoted as Hester, when pestilence stalked through the town."  Hester's reputation has changed dramatically as a result of her service to the community.  She has been so selfless and giving, generous and self-sacrificing to the needs of others, that everyone has noticed, and they are a great deal less judgmental of her now that she shows up during everyone's hour of need. 

Years before, as Hester retreated back into the prison from the scaffold, "It was whispered by those who peered after her that the scarlet letter threw a lurid gleam along the dark passage-way of the interior."  Hester was judged so harshly before; her peers could only think of her sin whenever they saw her.  The authorities even considered removing her daughter from her care because they felt she was unfit as a mother.  After several years have passed, however, when Hester attends the sick, "There glimmered the embroidered letter, with comfort in its unearthly ray."  She is now a source of comfort instead of a reminder of her sin.

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During the seven years Hester wears the scarlet letter the town's perception of her changes.  As she sews for the town, takes care of the poor, and helps those in need, the town even suggests that the letter no longer stands of adultery, but stands for able.  The townspeople are also no longer embarrassed by their neighbor; instead, they use her as a success story for visitors from other towns.  They point to her transformation as a sign of what they have done well, and they even begin to discuss that it might be time for her to remove the letter.  Hester stays above all of the idle gossip and continues living her life for herself and her daughter.  She believes it is not up to the town when the letter should come off.

 

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The attitude of the town is much changed in regards to Hester Prynne. Hawthorne says that while hatred can exist in humans, it may also change to love if there's no further irritation, and in the case of Hester, there was no further irritation. She takes her punishment with grace and lives piously. She helps the sick and offers council and advice to others. Her kind and compassionate nature causes the town's people to look on her in a much more positive light, often saying that the letter upon her chest better suited the word 'Able', as she was an excellent example of women's strength.

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Many of the townspeople have started to see Hester with some respect.  They see her as pious.  She visits the sick and offers advice and counsel.  At one point, Hester even finds out from Dimmesdale that the magistrates considered allowing her to remove the scarlet letter.

Some of the townspeople even say that the A now stands for "Able" rather than "Adultery." (Chapter 13)

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The town has changed in attitude towards Hester. Over time, Hester's continued charity, respect, and dignity have softened the hearts of the community. The town now characterize her scarlet letter as "able" rather than adultery.

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