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CHAPTER 5: HESTER AT HER NEEDLE
For Hester's violation of the Puritan code, the magistrates inflict two punishments: first, the hours of shame on the scaffold; and second, the life-long burden of the scarlet letter.
In this chapter, Hawthorne turns to the long, gray years following the turbulent scene in the market-place. Do the years show us a different Hester Prynne?
Many readers of The Scarlet Letter see the start of a great change in Hester, a move away from the fierce defiance of the opening chapters towards a growing acceptance of her fate. As evidence of a new softness and contrition, they point to:
1. HESTER'S DECISION TO REMAIN IN PURITAN
She might, Hawthorne tells us, have left the narrow- minded colony to start life all over again in a place where no one knew her story. The sea leads back to England or, for a woman of Hester's strength, the track leads onward into the wilderness. But Hester turns her back on these escape routes. She stays in the settlement, shackled, as if by an iron chain of guilt, to the scene of her crime and punishment.
2. HESTER'S SEDATE APPEARANCE
Hester has changed the rich clothing of the scaffold scene for a modest, nondescript dress. In her rejection of finery, she is more severe than her Puritan neighbors, who employ Hester's needle for such occasional luxuries as christening robes and gorgeously embroidered gloves.
3. HESTER'S CHARITY TO THE POOR
Hester uses her spare hours not for the detailed work she loves, but in the making of coarse garments for the colony's indigent. It is an act of penance for which she gets small thanks. The poor receive her gifts with insults.