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The townspeople's perception of Hester and her punishment in The Scarlet Letter

Summary:

The townspeople in The Scarlet Letter initially perceive Hester Prynne with scorn and judgment, viewing her punishment as just. Over time, however, their perception softens as they witness her charity and humility. Eventually, they come to see her as a person of strength and compassion, redefining the meaning of her scarlet letter from shame to honor.

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How do townspeople view Hester's punishment in The Scarlet Letter?

The women of the town are particularly vindictive and cold towards Hester and are waiting on the day her fate is first decided to cast judgement on her. Most every woman of the town is the very image of a staunch puritanical prude and contends throughout the beginning of the novel that Hester's punishment was far too lenient. They would, given their way, have the letter branded on her forehead instead of worn on her clothes. This is even relatively mild compared to others, who would have her exiled or even killed.

Many of the women are described as being homely and plain, and indeed, they seem envious of Hester's beauty. They insist that this is why the male magistrates went easy on her.

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How do townspeople view Hester's punishment in The Scarlet Letter?

At first, the townspeople either feel Hester's punishment is just or even that her punishment was far too lenient given her crime. The townswomen are the ones who feel the latter, thinking Hester should be branded or killed for her sexual transgression. They do not want the impressionable young girls of the town to follow Hester's example and think mere social ostracization is not sufficient to hammer the point home.

Otherwise, the rest of the town seems satisfied with Hester's punishment. She is forced to wear a scarlet "A" on her bodice for the rest of her life. After being confined to prison throughout her pregnancy, she is taken out and forced to stand on a pillory for the town to gaze upon her in her shame for a few hours.

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How do townspeople view Hester's punishment in The Scarlet Letter?

Most of the women (or gossips as Hawthorne refers to theme) believe that Hester Prynne has received too lenient of a punishment. They believe that the magistrates went to light on her because of her beauty, and believe that she should face a harsher punishment.  They worry that if they do not punish women like Hester, others may follow her lead and that she will not learn from her mistakes.

"Goodwives,” said a hard-featured dame of fifty, “I'll tell ye a piece of my mind. It would be greatly for the public behoof, if we women, being of mature age and church-members in good repute, should have the handling of such malefactress as this Hester Prynne. What think ye, gossips? If the hussy stood up for judgment before us five, that are now here in a knot together, would she come off with such a sentence as the worshipful magistrates have awarded? Marry, I trow not!”

They know that if they had been in charge of her punishment, and not the male magistrates, she would have had a much harsher (and appropriate in their opinion) punishment.  They suggest that she be branded, deported, or even executed. They feel her current punishment (just wearing the A) can easily be covered or removed, so she should have something more permanent in order to truly learn her lesson.

“At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne's forehead. Madame Hester would have winced at that, I warrant me. But she,—the naughty baggage,—little will she care what they put upon the bodice of her gown! Why, look you, she may cover it with a brooch, or such like heathenish adornment, and so walk the streets as brave as ever!”

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What did the town's women think of Hester in The Scarlet Letter?

Most of the women in the town are extremely rueful, angry, and judgmental towards Hester Prynn due to her crime of adultery. Most of them are staunch puritanical woman who have no shortage of animosity for Hester and, indeed, maintain that she has not been punished nearly harshly enough. Some suggest that she should be exiled completely rather than merely have to stand before the town for three hours.

Many of the woman are resentful of Hester's beauty, thinking that it is the reason that she got off with such a light punishment from the magistrates. Some women are outraged by her only having to wear the letter, suggesting that it should have been branded on her forehead instead.

Not all women in the town were so outwardly cruel, however. It was shown that at least one younger woman contended that Hester's shame was punishment enough.

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What did the town's women think of Hester in The Scarlet Letter?

The women of the town despise Hester at first. They see her as a "hussy" who deserves to die for her adultery. They see themselves as more respectable and God-fearing than she. That Hester is a good mother, a charitable woman devoted to the poor, and a patient sufferer mean nothing to them. They want no part of her and always make sure to isolate her during gatherings in town.

However, as the novel progresses, the women soften towards Hester. Her kind heart and quiet manner endear her to them. They also come to appreciate her needlework and artistry in making clothing. By the end of the novel, Hester's isolation is more self-imposed than anything, since the women come to like her.

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What did the town's women think of Hester in The Scarlet Letter?

At first, the women of the town scorn Hester as a fallen woman. Because of her scarlet letter, her adultery, and her illegitimate child, she is scorned as an outcast. Some of the women are also jealous of her for her beauty, so glad to pile on the hate.

Hester could have moved, as the novel tells us, and started over, but she decides to face up to what she has done and seek redemption. She doesn't expect kindness, but she nevertheless dedicates herself to good works, charity, and living an honorable life. Although she has very little money, she still manages to help the poor. She is humble, kind, and charitable to all.

Over time, her behavior wins over the other women. They begin to respect her strength of character and her goodness of heart. By her actions, Hester turns her scarlet letter, her badge of shame, into a badge of honor.

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What did the town's women think of Hester in The Scarlet Letter?

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter explores the Puritanical world and the woman who defies the preconceived notions of womanly behavior and love. Chapter two introduces a throng of women gathered outside the prison door, awaiting the release of Hester Prynne. Hawthorne describes them in less than generous terms, with broad shoulders and ruddy cheeks.

A "hard-featured dame of fifty" opens the dialogue with scorching comments about the nature of Hester Prynne. This lady brands Hester a "hussy" and suggests that she herself and her companions, all being more godly women, would have a far better, and far harsher, sentence for Hester Prynne than the magistrates have deemed.

While it is clear the women do not count Hester among them and want perhaps her life in exchange for her sins, it is important to note Hawthorne gives voice to one quiet detractor in the crowd. A young wife, perhaps feeling a sort of affinity for Hester, softly suggests that Hester has been punished enough and the pain she wears in her heart is punishment enough. Her sentiment is echoed by a man in the crowd, who may find himself struck to forgiveness by Hester's beauty. 

Be that as it may, it is clear through at least the first half of the novel, the women feel Hester has violated the Puritanical laws of chastity and humility and should be at the very least exiled to the outskirts of town.

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