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11. The market-place, with its penitential platform, lies at the heart of society. Here the Puritans demand conformity of Hester Prynne. Here Dimmesdale comes to confirm his acceptance of society's moral vision. In the forest, which lies beyond society's reach, freedom seems possible. Here nature takes over, and passion is given full sway.
The Puritans distrusted the forest. They knew that evil could flourish there, unchecked by law or religion. Hawthorne retains that distrust. In The Scarlet Letter, the forest is still the devil's home. (See the discussion of setting and "A Forest Walk.") -
12. You may choose Hester, Dimmesdale, or Chillingworth. Decide how sin changes your character, affects his or her thoughts, feelings, perceptions.
You will also want to decide whether sin is a positive or a negative force in your character's life. About Chillingworth, there is little question. About Hester and Dimmesdale, there is a good deal. If sin isolates Hester, it also makes her strong. If sin turns Dimmesdale into a hypocrite, it also gives him the necessary human touch. (See the discussions of individual characters and, depending on the character you write about, "Hester at Her Needle," "Another View of Hester," "Hester and the Physician," "The Leech," "The Leech and His Patient," "The Interior of a Heart," "The Minister in a Maze.")
Here is a sample answer:
Sin is a double-edged sword in the life of Hester Prynne. The effects of sin on her character are powerful and formative, but they are also ambivalent.
The first and most obvious effect of sin on Hester is to isolate her from the community. From the very beginning of the novel, Hester stands alone. On the scaffold of the pillory-with the scarlet letter on her dress-Hester is marked as someone apart from the menacing crowd that represents the society she has outraged by her crime.
How does Hester feel, labeled as an adulteress, condemned by the angry spectators in the market-place? A blush of shame on her cheek combines with a flashing look of defiance. Hester's ambivalent reaction to her sin, and to society's appraisal of that sin, continues throughout the book, with defiance growing under the cloak of shame and repentance.