Why do the Puritans allow Hester to design and create the scarlet letter that she wears as punishment?They are terribly offended by its sumptuous appearance, but they put the responsibilty of its...

Why do the Puritans allow Hester to design and create the scarlet letter that she wears as punishment?

They are terribly offended by its sumptuous appearance, but they put the responsibilty of its creation in the hands of the one who has transgressed their values.

Expert Answers
dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a very interesting question because there are so many layers to the answer. The Puritans did believe in self reflection of sin as a devise to seek out the errors of ones' ways.This is definitely the "offical" reason the Puritan Elders put forth, but if one reads between the lines it is clear that the Elders sought to subject her to more intense scrunity. In this way the hierarchy of power would neither be questioned or protested by the colony, making the hierarchy of the colony that much more on the "right" side of God. Hawthorne is very sublte in his intent which is to suggest although self reflection would be the accepted viewpoint there is a deeper point to be made. Hester not only abides by their decision, she cuts them to the quick, by creating a very elaborate letter..nothing plain for her. She is keen to what they "think they will get from her, and what she delievers. Hester's strength lies in her ability to remain steadfast. She accomplishes this by doing exactly what they tell her she "must" do. In the modern sense she beats them (Puritan Elders) at their own game. Hawthorne poses deliberate contradiction in his work for the reader to ponder just how difficult it must have been in a place such as Puritan America.

pawhite eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since Hester's husband is not present to make the legal accusation, the Puritans are in ambiguous territory; the fact that she refuses to name Pearl's father also places them in a spot.  In addition, the women in the village covet Hester's fine needlework and walk a fine social line to benefit from Hester's skill.  Also, almost every household in the village is guilty of some hypocrisy which would add to the village's reluctance to confront her more openly.  It was also common consensus that Pearl, herself, represented the most potent symbol of Hester's sin.  Hester refuses to remove the scarlet letter when she would be allowed to do so; it becomes a symbol of her triumph over society's tyranny.

timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm not sure THEY allow it ... Hawthorne allows it.  I believe the complexity of the symbol mirrors the ambiguous nature of Hester's understanding of her transgression. She accepts the fact that she has violated a rule of the community, and she knows that she must wear the letter that identifies her transgression. However she feels no personal guilt for what she has done.  In Chapter 17, she utters perhaps the most significant moral statement in the book:  "What we did had a consecration of its own.  We felt it."  And there is the dilemma: does feeling make something right?  In my reading the beautiful needlework indicates her evaluation of her action.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Not being an expert in Puritan law and punishment, I can only concur to the best of my knowledge with #5. The fashioning of the letter A by Hester Prynne is a plot device used by Hawthorne to create the most powerful and enduring symbol in this novel, which of course, gives it its title. This symbol has so many layers and it is well worth analysing this further trying to unravel the different significances that it has, especially considering the way that Hester turns her supposed mark of shame into a mark of beauty and a reflection of her personality and skill.

malenig eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws tried to regulate the kinds of clothing that could be worn by different classes.  These laws were very strict but very hard to enforce.  It is evident that Hester had great skill in creating elaborate garments, and she used this skill in the beginning to openly and pridefully defy the law once again. In making an elegant gown and A, Hester chose to reveal her haughty spirit.  As time went on, however, she became penitent and traded her rich gowns for plainer garb.

kukufa | Student

The answer is not explicit in the novel, but is is possible to assume that having to make the badge herself was part of the punishment. Puritans believed that hard work took your mind away from sinful thinking. Having to work on the badge might have given Hester a chance to go over the actions that had led to the shame of having to bear the letter on her clothes, and because it was detailed handy work that she could do in silence it might have been a moment for her to repent, pray and ask the Lord for forgiveness.

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The Scarlet Letter

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