Why cannot Hester Prynne sew bridal gowns in chapter V of The Scarlet Letter?

2 Answers | Add Yours

literaturenerd's profile pic

literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

While Hester Prynne (the protagonist from Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter)is able to sew "for the ceremonials of pomp and state" she was not allowed to "embroider the white veil."

Hester has been charged and sentenced with committing adultery proven by her illegitimate child, Pearl. Hester begins to sew so as to make a living for herself and her daughter.

Many people come to Hester for her renowned embroidery skills. She had provided her services to the Governor, military men, ministers, babies, and used on the coffins of those who had died.

Hester was not able to work on garments used for weddings because society "frowned upon her sin" and did not want her to touch the "white veil which was to cover the pure blushes of a bride." Basically, Hester's hands were looked at as sinful and people did not want her to tarnish the purity of the bride's attire.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Hester Prynne, who bears the mark of an adultress, is not allowed to embroider a bridal veil which will cover the "pure blushes of a bride" because her sin, "which society frowned upon," is connected to the basic relationship of man and woman.

If Hester were to embroider the white wedding veil, there would be attached to this veil a meretricious quality because of the sin-marked needle, a quality not fitting for a virginal bride. Interestingly, however, it is not only the artistic but also this uniquely different quality with its overlay of sin that adds to the appeal of Hester's handiwork in other situations. 

This description of the strange relationship of Hester's skills with the Puritan community also reflects the relationship of Hester with her Puritan community:

She stood apart from moral interest, yet close beside them, like a ghost that revisits the familiar fireside, and can no longer make itself seen or felt.

This alienation amid community brings upon Hester much anguish. And, yet, at times Hester sometimes notices some look upon her "ignominious brand" as if half of her agony were shared." Perhaps, then, there are other reasons why Hester's skills are employed.

Sources:

We’ve answered 319,199 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question