What did the women of the town think of Hester in The Scarlet Letter?

Expert Answers

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

Most of the women in the town are extremely rueful, angry, and judgmental towards Hester Prynn due to her crime of adultery. Most of them are staunch puritanical woman who have no shortage of animosity for Hester and, indeed, maintain that she has not been punished nearly harshly enough. Some...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Most of the women in the town are extremely rueful, angry, and judgmental towards Hester Prynn due to her crime of adultery. Most of them are staunch puritanical woman who have no shortage of animosity for Hester and, indeed, maintain that she has not been punished nearly harshly enough. Some suggest that she should be exiled completely rather than merely have to stand before the town for three hours.

Many of the woman are resentful of Hester's beauty, thinking that it is the reason that she got off with such a light punishment from the magistrates. Some women are outraged by her only having to wear the letter, suggesting that it should have been branded on her forehead instead.

Not all women in the town were so outwardly cruel, however. It was shown that at least one younger woman contended that Hester's shame was punishment enough.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The women of the town despise Hester at first. They see her as a "hussy" who deserves to die for her adultery. They see themselves as more respectable and God-fearing than she. That Hester is a good mother, a charitable woman devoted to the poor, and a patient sufferer mean nothing to them. They want no part of her and always make sure to isolate her during gatherings in town.

However, as the novel progresses, the women soften towards Hester. Her kind heart and quiet manner endear her to them. They also come to appreciate her needlework and artistry in making clothing. By the end of the novel, Hester's isolation is more self-imposed than anything, since the women come to like her.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At first, the women of the town scorn Hester as a fallen woman. Because of her scarlet letter, her adultery, and her illegitimate child, she is scorned as an outcast. Some of the women are also jealous of her for her beauty, so glad to pile on the hate.

Hester could have moved, as the novel tells us, and started over, but she decides to face up to what she has done and seek redemption. She doesn't expect kindness, but she nevertheless dedicates herself to good works, charity, and living an honorable life. Although she has very little money, she still manages to help the poor. She is humble, kind, and charitable to all.

Over time, her behavior wins over the other women. They begin to respect her strength of character and her goodness of heart. By her actions, Hester turns her scarlet letter, her badge of shame, into a badge of honor.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter explores the Puritanical world and the woman who defies the preconceived notions of womanly behavior and love. Chapter two introduces a throng of women gathered outside the prison door, awaiting the release of Hester Prynne. Hawthorne describes them in less than generous terms, with broad shoulders and ruddy cheeks.

A "hard-featured dame of fifty" opens the dialogue with scorching comments about the nature of Hester Prynne. This lady brands Hester a "hussy" and suggests that she herself and her companions, all being more godly women, would have a far better, and far harsher, sentence for Hester Prynne than the magistrates have deemed.

While it is clear the women do not count Hester among them and want perhaps her life in exchange for her sins, it is important to note Hawthorne gives voice to one quiet detractor in the crowd. A young wife, perhaps feeling a sort of affinity for Hester, softly suggests that Hester has been punished enough and the pain she wears in her heart is punishment enough. Her sentiment is echoed by a man in the crowd, who may find himself struck to forgiveness by Hester's beauty. 

Be that as it may, it is clear through at least the first half of the novel, the women feel Hester has violated the Puritanical laws of chastity and humility and should be at the very least exiled to the outskirts of town.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team