The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, expresses the aspects of a strict Puritan community of 17th century Boston. The values and morals of the Puritan settlement influence the social as well as moral expectations of the people. Many characters are affected by the strict laws, especially, Hester Prynne. Her development throughout the story is based upon the punishment and suffering she endures as a result of her sin.
Hester Prynne is caught in a conflict between the Puritan morals of her community and a higher law: one of her own love. She chooses to defy the Puritan beliefs and ethics by committing adultery. As a result, she is forced to stand ".a space of three hours on the platform of the pillory and then thereafter, to wear a mark of shame upon her bosom.""(p. 59) The scarlet letter and Pearl, Hester's child, are daily reminders of the sin she has committed. The community punishment is used as a way to alienate Hester from the people of the community and cause her further pain. "She turned her eyes downward to the scarlet letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and the shame were real. Yes!- these were her realities-all else had vanished!- (p.56) .
Since religion was a key-part in the Puritan community, anyone who did anything to disobey their God was looked down upon. The scarlet letter, which Hester has to wear, signifies the town's view of her sin. They do not see the human being behind the letter, they only see a sinner. To Hester, the "A- symbolizes not just adultery but also alienation. She is an outcast from society and is treated unjustly. "Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came in contact, implied, and often expressed that she was banished and much alone, as if she had inhabited another sphere."" (p.78) .
As time passes by, Hester's opinion throughout the community changes. Her devotion to serving the sick and needy and her fine sewing skills, give her access to almost every person in the community.