In The Scarlet Letter, what is the public view of Hester's sin as expressed by the women outside the prison? What do their comments suggest about this society?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the Puritan community in which sin and its exposure are cause for severe judgment and punishment, Hester Prynne's obvious sin of adultery is cause for much revilement. More than the men, the women vilify her and wish for the worst punishment to be imposed upon Hester; moreover, their venomous comments suggest their intentions to make a sort of scapegoat out of Hester drawing attention away from themselves.

While the women wait outside the prison, they take "a peculiar interest in whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue." Then, they talk among themselves and reach verdicts that are cruel: One says that Hester should be branded on the forehead instead of being made to wear a red A upon her breast. Another feels that Hester has brought shame upon them all and

"...ought to die. Is there not law for it? Truly there is, both in the Scripture and the statute-book.

These hyperbolic condemnations of Hester by the women raise questions about their own sense of justice and fairness. It seems that Hester has been made an object of attention in order to deflect attention away from them. They ignore their own sisterhood with Hester as being capable of sin themselves and, instead, they choose to perceive Hester as someone whose greater sin somehow mitigates their own transgressions. Ironically, later in the narrative, when Hester passes some of these women, they lower their eyes lest she detect their secret sins.

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The Scarlet Letter

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