With a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbors. (Chapter 2)
The quote describes Hester’s behavior and appearance when she stands outside of the prison while the townspeople gawk at her. She is ashamed at being a public spectacle, but she also shows pride and dignity. The quote reveals Hester’s strength of character, and introduces the idea that there might be different perspectives about her behavior and whether or not she deserves to be punished.
It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself. (Chapter 2)
The quote describes one of the consequences of the scarlet letter. Because she wears this visible sign of being different, Hester is isolated, and she is not treated like a normal woman. The quote foreshadows the lonely life Hester is going to be doomed to lead, but it also hints at the way she will develop unique qualities. Because Hester is removed from society, she can offer a clear perspective and insights that others cannot.
My child must seek a heavenly father; she shall never know an earthly one. (Chapter 3)
Hester speaks these words when she refuses to identify Pearl’s father. She cleverly uses religious doctrine to refute the powerful men who are pressuring her to reveal her secret. Because Christians believe that God is the father of everyone, Hester challenges the idea that she needs to identify Pearl’s biological father.
The days of the far-off future would toil onward, still with the same burden for her to take up and bear along with her. (Chapter 5)
This quote describes the somewhat bleak and hopeless future that Hester faces. Even after years go by, her past sin is not forgotten. Both the scarlet letter and Pearl herself serve as constant reminders of Hester’s past, and therefore Hester cannot make a fresh start. She has to be prepared to endure a life where she will always be punished for her transgression. The quote also highlights the contrast between Hester’s experience and the experience of Dimmesdale, who is beloved by the community even though he committed the same sin she did.
They said it meant Able, so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength. (Chapter 13)
This quote describes how Hester is gradually able to achieve a new reputation for herself. By working hard and proving herself to be a competent and useful member of the community, people eventually start to think the scarlet letter (“it”) might stand for something else. The quote shows that Hester never gives up or allows herself be defeated, even when her life is very hard.
Some attribute had departed from her, the permanence of which had been essential to keep her a woman. (Chapter 13)
This quote describes the way Hester is changed by her experience of being outcast and publicly shamed. She becomes more independent and self-reliant, but she also loses some of her ability to feel love and tenderness. Because she does not have anyone to help her, Hester loses her ability to trust and be intimate with others.
So speaking, she undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet letter. (Chapter 18)
This quote shows Hester at her boldest and most defiant. As she embraces the possibility of finally leaving behind her past and starting a new life abroad with Dimmesdale, she takes off the scarlet letter that symbolizes her shame and isolation. For a brief moment, it seems possible that Hester will be able to reinvent herself and have a fresh start.
She had returned, therefore, and resumed – of her own free will… resumed the symbol. (Chapter 24)
In this quote, the narrator explains what happens when Hester returns to New England years after the death of Dimmesdale. Even though no one makes her wear the scarlet letter (“the symbol”) anymore, she chooses to do so. This quote shows Hester finally becoming resigned to how much her past defines her, and being at peace with the choices she has made.