Homework Help: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne- Describe the narrator’s description of the demeanor of the spectators and the words of the women in The Scarlet Letter.

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Hawthorne definitely shows scorn toward the women of the village, hinting in a succinctly satirical tone, which is typical Hawthorne fashion, at their lack of sophistication, their excess weight, their coarse faces, and their petty attitudes.

This direct characterization is done to contrast them completely against his main character and heroine of the novel Hester Prynne, who is supposed to represent the absolutely opposite of what those women do.

The women who were now standing about the prison-door stood within less than half a century of the period when the man-like Elizabeth had been the not altogether unsuitable representative of the sex. They were her countrywomen: and the beef and ale of their native land, with a moral diet not a whit more refined, entered largely into their composition

He already suggests in chapter 2 that the women wanted to draw the proverbial blood out of Hester, as she was on her way to the scaffold to submit to public humiliation.

…on the summer morning when our story begins its course, […] the women, of whom there were several in the crowd, appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue.

With these undertones of cattiness and woman-to-woman anger, Hawthorne establishes the tremendous dissonance between Hester Prynne and her society. It is no wonder the woman ends up completely detouring from the natural dynamics of the town. She simply never fit in. She is a totally different creature. Hawthorne goes on with his depiction of the women:

The […] sun[..]shone on broad shoulders and well-developed busts, and onround and ruddy cheeks, that had ripened in the far-off island, and had hardly yet grown paler or thinner in the atmosphere of New England.

Again, this was Hawthorne’s quiet sense of humor, openly showing that the women would have clearly been jealous of Hester, more so than appalled by her behavior. Could it be that they secretly wished to have the gumption to do as they wish? Could she represent their repressed sexuality, if applicable? Are they mad because they suspect that any of their husbands could have been the culprit that impregnated this beautifully different woman from England? That is what it seems like, considering the words that they used.

At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead. Madame Hester would have winced at that, I warrant me. But she–the naughty baggage — little will she care what they put upon the bodice of her gown…

There were children there, too. They were given a half day off school to attend the public humiliation of Hester at the scaffold. They, along with both men and women, were amazed at the dignity with which Hester wore her scarlet letter. All of them admitted that her talent with the letter was so good that it looked more like a symbol of pride than one of shame.

Finally, we are told that the governor, his councilmen, a judge, a general of the town, and a battery of other important figures were also there, causing a weight in the people that made the crowd altogether gray:

Accordingly, the crowd was somber and grave. The unhappy culprit sustained herself as best a woman might,

under the heavy weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes, all fastened upon her, and concentrated at her bosom. It was almost intolerable to be borne.

Therefore, a combination of petty, anger, and awe was in the air. All was caused by Hester Prynne, her baby, and her scarlet letter. It is all a collage of emotions that are caused in society when a pariah is identified. Such is the case with Hester Prynne.


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