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Some attribute had departed from her, the permanence of which had been essential to keep her a woman. Such is frequently the fate, and such the stern development, of the feminine character and person, when the woman has encountered, and lived through, an experience of peculiar severity. If she be all tenderness, she will die. If she survive, the tenderness will either be crushed out of her, or—and the outward semblance is the same—crushed so deeply into her heart that it can never show itself more. The latter is perhaps the truest theory. She who has once been woman, and ceased to be so, might at any moment become a woman again, if there were only the magic touch to effect the transformation. (13.5-6)
Hey girl. Basically, you have two choices: stay tender and die, or lose your tenderness and stop being a woman. Not much of a choice, is it? (Oh, apparently there's a third option: go through your entire life without suffering, but good luck with that.)
Indeed, the same dark question often rose into her mind, with reference to the whole race of womanhood. Was existence worth accepting, even to the happiest among them? As concerned her own individual existence, she had long ago decided in the negative, and dismissed the point as settled. A tendency to speculation, though it may keep woman quiet, as it does man, yet makes her sad. She discerns, it may be, such a hopeless task before her. (13.9)
Hester has definitely decided that her life isn't worth living (although note that she never actually considers suicide—major sin), but she's torn on whether or not life is worth living for the rest of women. Think about it: Hester thinks life isn't worth living for women, but she still basically accepts the punishment and rules of her community. That tells us something about how powerful the religious and social pressures were: you'd have to think that leaving was a lot worse than sticking around.
"Do you see that woman with the embroidered badge?" they would say to strangers. "It is our Hester, —the town's own Hester, —who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted!" (13.3)
Great. Now that Hester's tending to the poor and sick, the townspeople are all, "Oh, look at our Hester!" Not that she still gets to come to church or gets invited to the Tupperware parties—we're not talking forgiveness, after all.