Puritan women play an important role in The Scarlet Letter. How would these Puritan women treat Hester, and how did they want to punish her?

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pirateteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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In chapter II, "The Market Place", the reader is finally introduced to Hester Prynne.  However, before she exits the prison we first meet the other Puritan women.  These "gossips" provide the reader with a glimpse into the harsh Puritan life.

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 malefactresses 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!”

The women imagine how things would be different if the courts had allowed them to make the decision for Hester's punishment.  The women believe that he punishment was too light. One Puritan suggests that the magistrates brand her with hot iron because they worry she can easily remove or cover up the scarlet letter.  The believe allowing her to just embroider a design on her clothing will not effectively teach her a 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!”

Another woman, who Hawthorne points out is the ugliest in the crowd, suggests that the only fitting punishment for Hester would be death.

What do we talk of marks and brands, whether on the bodice of her gown, or the flesh of her forehead?” cried another female, the ugliest as well as the most pitiless of these self-constituted judges. “This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is there no law for it? Truly, there is, both in the Scripture and the statute-book. Then let the magistrates, who have made it of no effect, thank themselves if their own wives and daughters go astray!”

These women have no remorse or concern for Hester.  They are threatened by her beauty and her crime; their chief concern is that she is punished in a way that will teacher her a lesson and scare anyone else from committing the same sins.

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