What is Hester Prynne’s punishment? What do the Puritan magistrates hope to accomplish with this punishment?

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The first scene of Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter depicts Hester Prynne's public punishment at the hands of the Puritan society of mid-17th century Boston. Hester has committed adultery, an action that, in Puritan times, was illegal and a punishable crime. Hester's adultery was discovered when she birthed a baby whose father was unknown.

Hester is forced to stand on a scaffold in town for three hours with a scarlet letter "A" branded on her dress. The "A" is a symbol for Hester's adultery, and the government has decreed that she must wear this "A" for the rest of her life. By putting her on public display, the townspeople are made aware of Hester's crime, and she endures much humiliation and ridicule on the scaffold.

Hester's public punishment is indicative of what the Puritan society did to people it saw as transgressors. It's worth noting that Hawthorne's ancestor, John Hathorne, was one of the judges that presided over the infamous Salem witch trials. Hathorne apparently...

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