What is Hawthorne implying about sin and mankind in general from chapter 5?The passage begins "Sometimes the red infamy upon her breast would give a sympathetic throb.."

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hawthorne's purpose in Chapter 5 of "The Scarlet Letter" is to explain to the reader the situation of Hester Prynne who has virtually been ostracized by the Puritan society for her one sin.  She does her penance by moving into a small thatched cottage on the outskirts of the community even though she is free to go anywhere.  She chooses to dress herself in the coarse and somber clothing, an action against her natural taste for the rich and beautiful.

She wonders, too, whether some of them are not as guilty of sin as she.  Sometimes, when she passes "a venerable minister or magistrate, the model of piety and justice, to whom that age of antique reverence looked up," the "red infamy upon her breast would give a sympathetic throb."  Secretly, Hester's heart recognizes the sin in others.  Here Hawthorne points to sin as a universal condition of all, and to the hypocrisy of the Puritans, as well.

Subjected to the viciousness of these Puritans who promulgate a story about the scarlet letter being red-hot with infernal fire that can be seen all alight throughout the night, Hester Prynne resents them so much that the narrator suggests,

perhaps there was more truth in the rumor than our modern incredulity may be inclined to admit.

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The Scarlet Letter

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