Throughout The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne touches upon the progression of women's status in society. According to Puritan beliefs, women are supposed to be tough and hard working individuals. Women are strong, unrefined, broad shouldered, and insensitive. However, Hawthorne's use of symbolism and imagery while depicting women's societal standing suggests that women are becoming more feminine and compassionate. At first glance, Hester is considered to be a contemptible adulteress, but as the novel progresses, the scarlet letter on her chest takes on a new meaning. .
At the beginning of the novel, Hawthorne explains how women have become more feminine throughout generations:.
Morally, as well as maternally, there was a coarser fibre in those wives and maidens of old English birth and breeding, than in their fair descendants, separated from them by a series of six or seven generations; for, throughout that chain of ancestry, every successive mother has transmitted to her child a fainter bloom, a more delicate and briefer beauty, and a slighter physical frame, if not a character of less force and solidity, than her own.
The author uses words such as "broad shouldered, well-developed busts, and ruddy cheeks" to emphasize the manliness of women in past generations. Older women have harsher punishments in mind for Hester than younger women do. Older women believe that Hester should be punished severely because the sin she commits is irreparable. On the other hand, younger women are portrayed as being more compassionate. A young wife, holding a child by the hand says, "let her cover her mark as she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart." Hawthorne uses light imagery to describe Hester's hair as she walks out of the prison:.
She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam She was lady-like, too, after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days; characterized by a certain state and dignity.