Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis
Upon her release from prison, Hester realizes that her entire life will henceforth be lived under the infamy and the shame of the scarlet letter. She will be mocked daily. Ridiculed. Treated with contempt in her own home—and yet she doesn't leave Boston. She chooses to stay, in part because Dimmesdale is there and she wants to be close to him. She moves into a small, abandoned cottage on the edge of town, where she does good business as a seamstress. She sews everything from gloves to dresses to baby linens—but never wedding veils.
Though Hester herself wears plain, simple garments, she dresses Pearl in "fanciful" clothes displaying her ingenuity as a seamstress. This costs her little, however, and whatever she has left over this, she gives to charity. These two acts (sewing and charitable giving) seem to comfort her. Her life has for the most part been stripped of passion, but she's able to take pleasure in her work. Still, life is hard, and Hester has no friends in town. She's treated with the utmost contempt, and she can't walk down the street without someone lecturing her, making fun of her, or looking at her with distrust.
Every once in awhile, Hester entertains the notion that there are others like her in Boston—sinners and adulterers who, though they don't bear the red mark, are guilty of the same sin. She imagines a fellow adulteress looking upon her with sympathy and understanding; but no one comes forward to befriend or comfort her. In fact, the rumor spreads through town that the scarlet letter is itself a sort of fire and that it can be seen to glow in the dark. This is, of course, untrue.