It's hard to hide an illegitimate child in a small Puritan community. When Hester Prynne, the principle character in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter, a married woman whose husband was long away, gave birth to a daughter in her town of Cornhill, she was clearly identified as a sinner. As soon as her sin became public knowledge, she was punished for being an adulterer. And a story can get very interesting when the man you committed adultery with is the town minister. When a sin is committed there are two paths that can be taken; one is to admit and surmount to the guilt, and the other is to keep it a secret until they are consumed by the sin, but either way thy are still affected by penance or penitence. .
Hester Prynne's punishment was a short period in jail, three hours of public humiliation on the scaffold, and the requirement of wearing a scarlet letter "A" on her chest for the rest of her life, serving as "a living sermon against sin" (Hawthorne 69). After confessing her sin and accepting the punishment, Hester was able to move on with life. She was able to bring up a strong and confident daughter. She was a talented seamstress and a devoted nurse with "so much power to do and power to sympathize" (158). She gave to the poor and needy. "None so ready as she to give of her little substance to every demand of poverty- (157) After seven hard, long years in disgrace, the scarlet letter began to take on a new meaning. Townspeople looked at Hester differently, as she contributed so much to their society. "They had begun to look upon the scarlet letter as the token, not of that one sin, for which she had borne so long and dreary a penance, but of her many good deeds since. The scarlet letter had the effect of the cross on a nun's bosom." (148) Due to Hester's caring and considerate virtues, the scarlet letter no longer stood for adultery and alienation. "Some people began saying that A stands for "Able" (158) and more accurate sign of herself.