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Chapter V of The Scarlet Letter portrays Hester's departure from prison as she takes now an "unattended walk" that begins a "daily custom" which she must endure or "sink beneath." Hester is faced with her new position in the community, realizing that her individuality is gone. For, now she is to become the general symbol for the preacher of the living figure of sin. And, strangely enough, it is this sin from which she could escape by moving somewhere else that somehow fatally keeps Hester in the Puritan community:
Her sin, her ignominy, were the roots which she had struck into the soil. It was as if a new birth....had converted the forest-land, still so uncongenial to every other pilgrim and wanderer, into Hester Prynne's wild and dreary, but life-long home. All other scenes of earth—even that village of rural England, where happy infancy and stainless maidenhood seemed yet to be in her mother's keeping...were foreign to her in comparison. The chain that bound her here was of iron links, and galling to her inmost soul, but never could be broken.
With this sense of doom, therefore, Hester sets forth on her new path in life. Then, too, there is also the pull of the force of her love for the man who has been her partner in shame; she cannot leave because of her love for him and because she feels she may be able to purge her soul by playing the role of martyr. And, so, lonely and friendless, Hester establishes herself on the edge of the community in a dwelling that faces the west. Yet, she is not without means as she can do elaborate needlework. And, while ornateness is forbidden the Puritans, those assuming power or positions of eminence have need for the ornateness that Hester could create. Her work was evodemced on the governor and other officials, on the baby, but never on the bride. Often, however, Hester turned her needle to the crude handiwork of clothing for the poor, perhaps as a means of penance. As narrator, Hawthorne writes of her talent with the needle,
To Hester Prynne it might have been a mode of expressing, and therefore soothing, the passion of her life. Like all other joys, she rejected it as sin. This morbid meddling of conscience with an immaterial matter betokened, it is to be feared, no genuine and steadfast penitence, but something doubtful, something that might be deeply wrong, beneath.
While Hester sews, it seems, there is something of the psychological which enters into her artistic actions. While they express her creativity, at the same time, Hester perceives her talent as expressions of a sinful pride just as her original sin of adultery has been. This distinction, also, sets Hester apart from the others,
She stood apart from mortal interests, yet close beside them, like a ghost that revisits the familiar fireside, and can no longer make itself seen or felt....
Having become a social pariah, Hester holds the insults of others quietly in her heart. When she attends religious services, she often finds herself as part to the text of the sermon. Children often let her pass by, but then run after her,calling her names, and whenever she passed anyone, they invariably stare at her letter, first with astonishment and fear, then with repulsion. So tortured is Hester that she is anxious upon each encouter with others, more sensitive with each "new torture." But, sometimes it seems that Hester sees a sympathetic eye. Still, Hester believes that none are guilty but her.
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