What is the meaning of the lline,"the scarlet letter has not done its office"?The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This phrase comes from Chapter XIII of The Scarlet Letter, a chapter that many have perceived Hester as, like Ann Hutchinson, a rising feminist.  For, while she has subjugated her independence of thought to the care and safety of her child, she has not achieved repentance for her sin with a renewal of Puritan faith.  Instead, she feels a cold despair, wondering if

it were for ill or good that the poor little creaature had been born at all.

In fact, the same question arises in Hester's mind regarding "the whole race of womanhood." She ponders the "hopeless task" of independence for women who must abandon the priorities of the heart if they are to be able to achieve any recognition as individuals and who must see an entire reform of society if there are to be "mightier reforms."  Certainly, they cannot be a part of the Puritan community with its denial of the spirit of woman.  Ironically, then, it is Hester's mark of the scarlet letter and isolation from the Puritan community that has drawn her farther away from the thought of her sect as it has afforded her the distance and independence necessary to such ponderings.  Indeed, the scarlet letter has not done its office of molding Hester into a true Puritan.

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The Scarlet Letter

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