The Scarlet Letter Questions and Answers
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, what does "the scarlet letter had not done its office" mean in Chapter XIII?

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In addition to contributing to the growth of independence in Hester, rather than subjugation to the stringencies of the Puritan community, the scarlet letter has also "not done its office" in its failure to elicit from Hester Prynne her confession of the identity of the man with whom she has committed her sin of adultery.  For, in Chapter III, one of the townsmen remarks,

"Madame Hester absolutely refuseth to speak, and the magistrates have laid their heads together in vain."

The Reverend Mr. Wilson has exhorted her to indicate the man, telling her to speak his name that with her repentence, she "may avail to take the scarlet letter off thy breast."But, Hester adamantly replies, "Never!"

In Chapter XIII, then,the letter has most certainly "not done its office" as Scarlet wears the letter on her own terms, resolving to go completely counter to the wishes of the magistrates; for, she is determined to meet her former husband, Roger Chillingworth

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