Chapter 5 Notes from The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter Chapter 5

Hester is released from prison. She prepares to enter the world and maintain a strength that was hard to find while on the town scaffold--now she must remain strong in the face of the townspeople's open hostility. Hester recognizes that, with her scarlet letter, she will be a public and open example of sin for many people. The Narrator entertains the question of why Hester chose to remain in Boston and accept her punishment, rather than escape, with Pearl, to Europe, where she could live anonymously, and not have to wear the Scarlet Letter:

"But there is a fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt, ghostlike, the spot where some great and marked event has given the color to their lifetime; and still the more irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it." Chapter 5, pg. 73.

Also, the Narrator considers the idea that Hester may remain there because she feels tied in a silent bond to the man with whom she committed the sin of adultery. Hester remains in Boston, and goes to live on a remote peninsula of the town in an abandoned cottage where the land is too sterile to support a family. Hester's only skill is that of needlework and embroidery. This is the manner in which she supports herself and her daughter. Although Puritan dress is typically very simple and has very little decoration, there are certain events that call for elaborate embroidery and decoration. Ordinations, installations of public officers, clothing the dead and newborns all were events which called for Hester's services - the most important life cycle events in the colony. "But it is not recorded that, in a single instance, her skill was called in aid to embroider the white veil which was to cover the pure blushes of a bride." Chapter 5, pg. 76.

Hester spends very little of the money she makes on herself, but sews very beautiful, fancy, imaginative and bright dresses for her daughter. She also gives much of her left over money to people in more need than herself. But because of the Scarlet Letter, she does not receive any thanks. She is constantly held as an example to the people, and preachers often stop in the street to give impromptu sermons to a gathering crowd about her sin. She will often enter church, only to find that the sermon is about her. This isolation in the middle of a bustling town, allows Hester, she imagines, to see the sin that other people hide. She feels she can detect a certain blush, or sympathetic reaction to the sight of the Scarlet Letter that betrays guilt. The Letter was indeed a suitable punishment--it seemed to the townspeople to burn with an internal fire which glowed in the nighttime.

Topic Tracking: Burning 3

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