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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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Hester now moves quietly and usefully through the community, bowing her head as indignities are heaped upon it. Have we a newly chastened woman? Some readers think so. Yet others question just how deeply Hester has been stained with the Puritan dye and imbued with the Puritans' somber vision of life. They see hints of the old fire, that inflammable mixture of passion, recklessness, and despair. They argue:

1. Hester has chosen to stay in the Puritan settlement for a reason she dares not admit, even to herself: the man she loves is there. Here is the tie she feels to Boston, an unblessed union to be recognized in the next world, if not in this one.

2. Hester subdues her taste for the beautiful out of a guilty conscience. She knows all is not well with herself, so she has come to reject as sin all that she finds natural or pleasurable. The sewing of beautiful things would be innocent enough outlet for the sensuous streak in her nature. But she denies herself innocent outlets, only to bottle up feelings that will one day explode.

3. Hester's acts of charity are a camouflage for anger and bitterness. Though she sews for the poor, she wishes them to the devil. She may show outward patience when insulted and abused, but inwardly she is stung to the quick.


NOTE: With her consummate skill as a seamstress and her taste for the gorgeously beautiful, Hester is an artist. Or the nearest thing to an artist that Puritan New England allows. In this capacity, at least, she has Hawthorne's full sympathy. An artist himself, Hawthorne has suffered imaginary, but painful, reprimands from his Puritan forebears. He knows, and wrestles, with the fact that his work is at best trivial, at worst dangerous, in their eyes. (See "The Custom House.")

Perhaps we can sense a struggle in Hester Prynne to define her new relations with the society she has offended. Once she engaged the Puritan world in head-to-head combat. Now the conflict has moved within herself.

We can learn a lot from Hester's choice of a home. She moves into a small cottage on the outskirts of town. She lives not within shouting distance of her neighbors, but still within the boundaries that define the settlement.

It is a narrow foothold that Hester maintains in a community that offers her no support or human warmth, but that does not entirely cast her off.

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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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