Chapter Five: Hester at Her Needle
Hester is released from prison and finds a cottage in the woods, near the outskirts of the city, to set up her new life. Hawthorne comments on the fact that she does not avail herself of the opportunity to escape to a new life without shame in some other city. He remarks that often people are irresistibly drawn to live near the place where a great has occurred. He further comments that even if that is not the reason, Hester may have been inclined to remain in Boston because her secret lover still lived there. Hester's skill at needlework, earlier shown in the fine way that she displayed the scarlet letter, allows her to maintain a fairly stable lifestyle. However, her reputation as an outcast and loner causes a certain aura to be cast around her. Thus, Hawthorne points out that young children often crept up to her house to spy on her while she worked. He also comments that in spite of her excellent needlework, she was never called upon to make a bridal gown due to her reputation. Hester spends her time working on the projects which bring in her income, and devotes the remainder of her work to creating garments for the poor. She lives simply with the sole exception being that she creates amazing dresses of fine fabrics for Pearl. Hester's social life is virtually eliminated as a result of her shameful history. She is treated so poorly that often preachers will stop in the street and start to deliver a lecture as she walks by. Hester also begins to hate children, who unconsciously realize there is something different about her and thus start to follow her with "shrill cries" through the city streets. One of the things which Hester starts to notice is that every once in a while she receives a sympathetic glance, and feels like she has a companion in her sin. Hawthorne puts it, "it gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts." This is interesting because many of the people Hawthorne accuses of hypocrisy as regards the scarlet letter are, "a venerable minister or magistrate," people who are viewed as models of "piety and justice." Analysis
The fact that Hester stays in Boston is likely due to the fact that she is too ashamed to go anywhere else. With the humiliation of receiving the scarlet letter, her tenacity and will-power are destroyed, causing her to accept her fate and remain in Boston. The symbolism of the scarlet letter is expanded in this chapter. Whereas at first it represented Hester's adultery and also her needlework skills, it now takes on two more meanings. Foremost, the letter begins to represent the hidden shame of the community. Thus preachers will stop in the street and give sermons when they see Hester. The letter therefore becomes an example of crime and acts a deterrent for others in the community. However, Hawthorne indicates that Hester is now able to see when other people sympathize with her. Thus the letter serves as a gateway into other people's secret crimes, and acts as a focal point for the shame of the entire community.. The letter can thus also be interpreted as a symbol of shame shared by everyone, rather than by Hester alone. The treatment of Hester almost reaches a low point in this chapter. She is cut off socially in the sense that she has no friends and lives in an isolated cottage. In addition, Hester becomes an outcast which even the children mock, causing her more pain. Hawthorne indicates that even though Hester spends time helping to make clothes for the poor, they treat her badly in spite of her good intentions. Her choice of habitation is crucial to the symbolism within the novel. The forest represents love, or the wilderness where the strict morals of the Puritan community cannot apply. Thus, when Hester makes her home on the outskirts of the city, directly on the edge of the woods, she is putting herself in a place of limbo between the moral and the immoral universes. This is important because it shows that...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document