Chapter 5 – Hester at her needle
Hester has now served her term of imprisonment and is free to leave the
To the surprise of many, she decides to remain within the district taking up residence in a small seaside cottage on the outskirts of the town. She is able to make a living through her aptitude as a seamstress, and she is in great demand except if a wedding is involved. However, nobody crosses her door as a friend, and apart from Pearl, she has no companionship. She is still the target of vicious abuse from the Puritans, which she endures with grace and dignity. She still wears the scarlet A, but this is becoming more than just a symbol of her sin. She feels that she is able to sense sin in others.
It should be noted that Pearl is usually dressed in scarlet – a symbol of
her nature and rebelliousness.
Again Hawthorne uses symbolism by placing Hester’s cottage between the town
and the wilderness.
To the people of the town, Hester is a living symbol of sin and they view
her as an embodiment of evil in the world. They are hypocritical by availing themselves of her talent, but they treat her as an outcast. They will argue that they do this out of charity.
Hester’s isolation is summed up thus “O Fiend, whose talisman was that fatal
symbol, wouldst thou leave nothing, whether in youth or age, for this poor sinner to revere?”
This gives an insight into Hester’s desperation. In truth, Hester has committed the one sin of adultery, but in all other respects she now conforms to the moral strictness of the community.
There are more and more references to the supernatural as the tale unfolds,
and the scarlet A seems to have a power in it, and it is more than mere cloth and thread.
This was referred to right at the start of the book when Hawthorne tells how he first discovered the cloth. Some of the townsfolk, when they looked inside the prison door and saw Hester being taken to her cell, swore that they could see the letter glowing in the dark.