How is being exiled by society a good thing for Hester in The Scarlet Letter?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We can look to Chapter Five for an answer to this question, which is when Hester is freed from prison and is able to choose anywhere to live. However, what is curious is that she chooses to stay in precisely the same place where she has been so cruelly treated, selecting a house that has a setting that is particularly significant, as the following quote demonstrates:

It had been built by an earlier settler, and abandoned because the soil about it was too sterile for cultivation, while its comparative remoteness put it out of the sphere of that social activity which already marked the habits of the emigrants.

What is significant about the positioning of the house that is to be Hester's home is that it lies on the fringes of acceptable society and is very close to the woods. There is a symbolic significance in the woods and the town in the novel, with the town representing the repressive order and laws of Puritanism and the woods representing the freedom from those laws. Therefore the fact that Hester's house where she lives and brings up Pearl straddles both of these worlds is very significant and explains the kind of freedom that she comes to enjoy. In a sense, her exile frees her to raise her child the way she wants and to be the kind of person that she wants to be away from the harsh rules of Purtain society to a certain extent. In this sense, exile is actually a good thing for Hester's character development.

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The Scarlet Letter

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