This excerpt from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter describes the protagonist, Hester Prynne emerging from jail. Hester was sentenced to remain in jail until her baby, conceived out of wedlock, was born. Hester’s sentence also required that she stand before the town’s people in the public square on a scaffold. She was also required to wear a large scarlet letter over her chest signifying that she had committed adultery. Read the following excerpt and then respond with your impression on how a women’s appearance represents the manner that she is valued in society based on the traditions handed down through time.
The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance, on a large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and deep black eyes. She was lady-like, too, after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days; characterized by a certain state and dignity, rather than by the delicate, evanescent, and indescribable grace, which is now recognized as its indication. And never had Hester Prynne appeared more lady-like, in the antique interpretation of the term, than as she issued from the prison. Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped. It may be true, that, to a sensitive observer, there was something exquisitely painful in it. Her attire, which, indeed, she had wrought for the occasion, in prison, and had modelled much after her own fancy, seemed to express the attitude of her spirit, the desperate recklessness of her mood, by its wild and picturesque peculiarity. But the point which drew all eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer,–so that both men and women, who had been familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynne, were now impressed as if they beheld her for the first time,–was that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself.