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In Chapter II of The Scarlet Letter the reader finally meets Hester Prynne and sees who the town has gathered to watch. After much speculation, it is expected that young Hester will emerge from the jail defeated or at least embarrassed, but this is not the woman we see.
And never had Hester Prynne appeared more lady-like, in the antique interpretation of the term, than as she issued from the prison. Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped.
Those the came to see Hester looking sad or her beauty diminished were disappointed. The Hester they saw was more of a lady than ever and seemed to be at peace with her shame and misfortune. The narrator goes on to describe her attire, which is just as beautiful and illuminating as she is.
Her attire, which, indeed, she had wrought for the occasion, in prison, and had modelled much after her own fancy, seemed to express the attitude of her spirit, the desperate recklessness of her mood, by its wild and picturesque peculiarity. But the point which drew all eyes, and, as it were, trans-figured the wearer,—so that both men and women, who had been familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynne, were now impressed as if they beheld her for the first time,—was that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.
Her beautifully embroidered scarlet letter- meant to impose punishment and humiliation on its victim- also stood out as a work of art and symbol that she who wore the letter was not hiding from her sentence or embarrassed by her actions.
It's important for us to see this prideful side of Hester from the beginning. We see that she has rejected the shame the town has tried to impose on her, and that she posses a strength in her character that many people in the religious town do not.
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