She clutched the child so fiercely to her breast, that it sent forth a cry; she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and the shame were real. Yes!--these were her realities--all else had vanished!
Hester views herself as a social pariah after she is made to stand on the scaffold. When Roger Chillingworth visits her at the prison, she is worried that he will harm her baby. She is so nervous and depressed that a watch is kept over her. After she is released in Chapter V, Hawthorne writes that she
could no longer borrow from the future to help her through the present grief. Tomorrow would bring its own trial with it; so would the next day, and so would the next; each its own trial, and yet the very same that was now so unutterable grievous to be borne.
Hester does not know how she will bear the day-to-day living that wearing the stigma of the scarlet letter will bring to her. Yet, she stays in her community when she can run into the forest and live as Chillingworth has done with the Indians, or she can return to England. But, Hester remains because
there is a fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt, ghost-like, the spot where some great and marked even has given the colour to their lifetime....
Here is the key to understanding Hester. She consents to the punishment of her culture; as a result, she loses her individuality, her passion, her very essence. She wears dull colors, her hair loses its luster. She works for others in the community, sewing and tending the ill. She serves, and Pearl is her reminder of her sin.