How do most townspeople regard Hester's punishment in The Scarlet Letter?

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The women of the town are particularly vindictive and cold towards Hester and are waiting on the day her fate is first decided to cast judgement on her. Most every woman of the town is the very image of a staunch puritanical prude and contends throughout the beginning of the...

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The women of the town are particularly vindictive and cold towards Hester and are waiting on the day her fate is first decided to cast judgement on her. Most every woman of the town is the very image of a staunch puritanical prude and contends throughout the beginning of the novel that Hester's punishment was far too lenient. They would, given their way, have the letter branded on her forehead instead of worn on her clothes. This is even relatively mild compared to others, who would have her exiled or even killed.

Many of the women are described as being homely and plain, and indeed, they seem envious of Hester's beauty. They insist that this is why the male magistrates went easy on her.

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At first, the townspeople either feel Hester's punishment is just or even that her punishment was far too lenient given her crime. The townswomen are the ones who feel the latter, thinking Hester should be branded or killed for her sexual transgression. They do not want the impressionable young girls of the town to follow Hester's example and think mere social ostracization is not sufficient to hammer the point home.

Otherwise, the rest of the town seems satisfied with Hester's punishment. She is forced to wear a scarlet "A" on her bodice for the rest of her life. After being confined to prison throughout her pregnancy, she is taken out and forced to stand on a pillory for the town to gaze upon her in her shame for a few hours.

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Most of the women (or gossips as Hawthorne refers to theme) believe that Hester Prynne has received too lenient of a punishment. They believe that the magistrates went to light on her because of her beauty, and believe that she should face a harsher punishment.  They worry that if they do not punish women like Hester, others may follow her lead and that she will not learn from her mistakes.

"Goodwives,” said a hard-featured dame of fifty, “I'll tell ye a piece of my mind. It would be greatly for the public behoof, if we women, being of mature age and church-members in good repute, should have the handling of such malefactress as this Hester Prynne. What think ye, gossips? If the hussy stood up for judgment before us five, that are now here in a knot together, would she come off with such a sentence as the worshipful magistrates have awarded? Marry, I trow not!”

They know that if they had been in charge of her punishment, and not the male magistrates, she would have had a much harsher (and appropriate in their opinion) punishment.  They suggest that she be branded, deported, or even executed. They feel her current punishment (just wearing the A) can easily be covered or removed, so she should have something more permanent in order to truly learn her lesson.

“At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne's forehead. Madame Hester would have winced at that, I warrant me. But she,—the naughty baggage,—little will she care what they put upon the bodice of her gown! Why, look you, she may cover it with a brooch, or such like heathenish adornment, and so walk the streets as brave as ever!”

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