Such Prideful Embroidery! IRJE #2- The Scarlet Letter

A book that I am currently reading is The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This book takes place in the mid-1600s Puritan Massachusetts. The novel takes place around the husband of Hester Prynne who returned to Salem to find that his wife gave birth to a bastard baby. Hester is cast out socially, and punished to wear an embroidered red “A” on her chest, for adultery. However, the father of the child is unrevealed, due to his high standing in their community. The book begins with Hester’s punishment of standing on the scaffold in the market place for three hours. During this time, she endures much shame and debasement.

“She hath good skill at her needle, that’s certain.” remarked one of her female spectators; “but did ever a woman, before this brazen hussy, contrive such a way of showing it? Why, gossips,  what is it but to laugh in the faces of our godly magistrates, and make a pride out of what they, worthy gentlemen, meant for a punishment?”

“It were well,” muttered the most iron-visaged of the old dames, “If we stripped Madame Hester’s rich gown off her dainty shoulders; and as for the red letter which she hath stitched so curiously, I’ll bestow a rag of mine own rheumatic flannel to make a fitter one!”

“Oh, peace , neighbours – peace!” whispered their youngest companion; “do not let her hear you! Not a stich in that embroidered letter but she has felt it in her heart.” (p. 51)

I really enjoy this piece of dialogue, as it really sets the tone of the book, and it displays how Hester Prynne was perceived by the public. This quote shows you how the gossips in the community viewed Hester compared to the magistrates and the ministry. In the book, the gossips are often described as ugly or old, and it is quite obvious that the much of their gibes toward the woman come from jealousy of Hester’s good looks. I am excited to continue this book, and as of right now, I find it very interesting.

Leave a Reply