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Sin. Everyone does it, and everyone gets punished for it in some way. Weather it be a slap on the wrist or forcing one to sew a scarlet letter onto the bosom of their clothes. But it is how you take the punishment that will define you. Hester Prynne took her punishment and wore it with golden embroidery. Even though Hester Prynne is forced to face the torment from the townspeople and from her vengeful husband, she shows women everywhere strength and willpower.
I. THE PRISON DOOR
How it works
In the first chapter the author sets the stage with gray colorings and a scarlet rose bush in hopes that it may symbolize some morale in us during this dark tale he tells. He sets the scene by telling us of the dreariness of Boston, Massachusetts, save for the rose bush next to the prison doors that has somehow had the strength to survive. In his wondering of how the rose bush has survived, he mentions Anne Hutchinson, who was banished from Massachusetts in 1638 for hosting prayer meetings for women and reapproached most of the ministers teachings.
Even though he has not even said her name, the author already tells us about Hester Prynne. Both the rose bush and Anne symbolize Hester, for she had the strength to bear her punishment and the willpower to defy the male authorities by not saying who commited the sin of adultery with her. Throughout this book this stays with the reader, as the author wanted, giving a sense of woe for how she can bear her public punishment of the scarlet letter A and the remainder of her transgressions in the life of her daughter Pearl.
II. THE MARKET-PLACE
Before introducing Hester, the author provides some background as to where the story takes place, when, and why the people act like they do (i.e. Hester’s punishment). The story takes place in 17th- century Boston, Massachusetts. Boston is a Puritan town, meaning they were English Reformed Protestants who wanted to “purify” the Church of England from its practices of Catholicism.
In anticipation of waiting for Hester Prynne, the women in the crowd outside the prison talk amongst each other about the transgressions of Hester and await to see what her punishment is for being a ‘hussy’. Unkowest to them that when she walks out, baby against her chest with the scarlet A that she finely embroidered shining in the morning sun, Hester Prynne’s beauty and desperate recklessness of her mood will impress them all, intraping them in a sort of spellbound astonishment. She then walks with purpose to the scaffold of the pillory in the marketplace for all to see her and what she has done.
III. THE RECOGNITION
Hester spots in the crowd an Indian who are not common to visit English settlements. Standing beside him is unmistakingly Hester’s husband, who we know not his real name. He makes a gesture to her not to say anything about him being there then turns to a man next to him and asks who she is and why she is set to public shame. The townsman tells him that Hester’s husband, of two or less years, sent her to Massachusetts ahead of him while he looked after some affairs in Amsterdam where they had lived. Hester then had an affair with a man who she refuses to reveal to the magistrates.
Governor Bellingham, John Wilson, and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale question Hester about who her baby’s father is. They tell her that she should not be facing this punishment alone. She refuses again and again, saying she will endure both his agony and hers. Following the hours on the scaffold, Hester Prynne is led back to the prison.
IV. THE INTERVIEW
While in the prison, Hester and her baby were filled with a wildness that could not be calmed. Therefore the jailer called forth a physician who called himself, and forthmore be called, Roger Chillingworth who was in fact Hester’s husband. He provides Hester and her baby with medicine that calms them. Roger proceeds to chastise himself for thinking she could ever love a misshapen scholar like him.
When Hester agrees she never loved him, he questions her himself on who she had an affair with. After she doesnt tell him, he threatens her by saying he will find who it is. Roger tells Hester not to reveal his identity and she replies, “I will keep thy secret, as I have his.”
V. HESTER AT HER NEEDLE
Hester is released from prison after a few months. Even though she is free to leave Boston, Hester does not because it is her home. So she chose to live in an old and abandoned house on infertile land on the outskirts of town. Still though, she is secluded and an outcast.
She supports herself and her baby by her talent of embroidery. She embroiders for every occasion save weddings, for it is deemed inappropriate for a bride to wear her work. She also does sewing as charity work as a punishment making those who insult her rough clothing. She makes her daughter beautiful and ‘fanciful’ clothes, whilst her’s are nothing beyond subsistence.
Pearl Prynne was named so because she was Hester’s greatest treasure, purchased with everything she had. Pearl has inherited everything about her from her mother, for she is as beautiful as moody and passionate as Hester. Though Hester loves her daughter deeply, she worries over her very much.
Pearl is as much of an outcast as her mother, more so even. The author often describes her as an “imp of evil”. When Hester tries to teach her daughter of God, Pearl cries out that she has no Heavenly Father. She often seems to intentionally torture Heaster by playing with the scarlet letter she bears.
VII. THE GOVERNOR’S HALL
The Prynne’s travel to Governor Bellingham’s mansion for two reasons: To deliver a pair of gloves from the governor, and for Hester to see if the rumors of them taking pearl from her because the townspeople think Pearl is a demon child are true. On their way Hester and Pearl see some of the children are playing in the street. When the children see them coming, they say to each other, “Come, therefore, and let us fling mud at them!” Pearl scares them off by making threatening gestures at them and rushing at them.
The mansion is filled with old portraits of the Bellingham family and a suit of armor the governor wears into battle. Pearl becomes fascinated with the armor. When she shows her mother’s reflection in the armor, Hester is terrified of how her scarlett A prevails her reflection. Pearl spots the rose bush outside and screams for a rose and quiets only when a group of men enter the hall.
VIII. THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER
Once Bellingham, Wilson, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth, who has been taking care of the Reverend for two or three years because his health has severely suffered due to his pastoral relation, enter they poke fun at Pearl by calling her a demon child and a bird. When Bellingham points out that Hester is also there, he questions her as to why she should be allowed to keep Pearl. Hester tells the men that she can teach Pearl from her sin and from what her scarlet letter teaches her everyday. When they test Pearl’s knowledge of God, she answers that she has no Heavenly Father.
Hester begs for them to let her keep her child. She turns to Reverend Dimmesdale for help, asking him to tell them how God sent Pearl to her and that it is a mother’s right. Dimmesdale agrees with her and the men let Hester keep the child.
Pearl takes a liking to the Reverend, taking his hand and placing it against her cheek. He kisses her head and she flits off laughing, feet barely touching the ground. Roger asks the men to reopen the investigation of her father’s identity. The men disagree saying that he is to be revealed when God deems it fit.
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