In The Scarlet Letter, why does Hawthorne say "the scarlet letter had not done its office", in chapter 13?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Hawthorne says, “The scarlet letter had not done it office,” meaning that it had not done its job in at least two ways. On the part of the community, quite the contrary happened, Hester Prynne had become a woman known for doing good works; works of mercy for the sick and down trodden always wearing the Scarlet Letter upon her. Most people in the community accepted her and it was felt

—that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Abel; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength.”

On the other hand, she became quite introspective and thoughtful, asking for nothing. In fact, she thought very little of herself and as the community became more accepting of her, she became less accepting herself. She was down trodden, self-punishing as she lived only for her daughter, Pearl. Pearl became an unruly, unmanageable child who which causes Hester to contemplate whether the child should have been born. The Scarlet Letter had not changed her thinking about the station of women in society and she often thought that it would be better if both she and Pearl were dead. She had thoughts of suicide that are against Puritan doctrine. Not even the letter upon her chest could purify her thoughts.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial