In The Scarlet Letter, what punishments would the Puritan women have given Hester Prynne if it were left to them?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chapter II of The Scarlet Letter, "The Market-Place" shows the contempt with which the Puritan women of the village speak of Hester Prynne.

Waiting for Hester's exit from the prison door and onto the scaffold the women, as well as the rest of the villagers, will have the chance of staring straight at Hester for a period of an hour. This Puritan punishment is meant to publicly humiliate the punished, exposing them to the potential mockery and sneering of their community.

The narrator explains that the women of the village, although followers of a sanctimonious rule and although calling themselves "goodwives", are particularly vicious. They seem to be critically shedding their own marital and intimacy issues onto the persona of Hester Prynne for the latter's commission of a sexual sin, getting posteriously pregnant, and then having the unthinkable: an illegitimate child.

The woman are angry because they feel that the punishment of wearing the red letter "A" in Hester's bosom is not harsh enough. They actually believe that Hester deserves physical punishment and more public humiliation. One of the goodwives, described as an "Autumnal matron" leads the way in saying how Hester should be punished by stating

At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne's forehead.

The other wives, all with the exception of one, also joined in the angry mob

It were well..if we stripped Madame Hester's rich gown off her dainty shoulders; and as for the red letter, which she hath stitched so curiously, I'll bestow a rag of mine own rheumatic flannel, to make a fitter one!

Therefore, the goodwives are, overall, quite mad at the magistrates for having imposed what they feel to be a very lenient sentence on Hester. They sure believe that, had Hester been put in front of the women they would have done everything from brandishing her with a hot iron, to destroying the beautifully-made letter A that Hester had created as requested by her punishment. They obviously feel a sense of jealousy at Hester's superior beauty, and have a sense that Hester's looks gave her some kind of preferential treatment.


mirandajgomez | Student

They would give her the punishment of death since they didn't think her worthy of being alive. They wanted her to go to hell "Where she belonged" for making such a drastic sin.

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The Scarlet Letter

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