What does the following quote from The Scarlet Letter mean?

“Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped.”

Quick answer:

The towns people do not expect to see Hester as the light and beautiful woman she is.

Expert Answers

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In chapter 2 of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the townspeople gather outside the prison, making judgmental comments and eagerly waiting for Hester to walk out.

The quotation describes the surprised reaction of the townsfolk at Hester, who, despite her misfortune, carries herself with dignity and refuses to be ashamed.

The people are shocked upon seeing Hester. They expected her to be sullen, shameful, and humiliated. They thought she would be crushed under a heavy cloud of misery and anguish. Much to their surprise, Hester is none of these things.

Hester does not give the townspeople the satisfaction of seeing her defeated. She turns her pain into power and bravely walks out of the prison with her head held high. She refuses to act ashamed or embarrassed, even as she is forced to stand before the judgmental community with the scarlet letter A embroidered on her dress and her illegitimate baby in her arms.

Even under her unfortunate circumstances, Hester is radiantly beautiful. Her beauty is compared to a “halo” that is so full of light it outshines the dark cloud that hangs over her.

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