Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 2

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 2

The Market Place

  • Ooh, now it's time for a description of the solemn way Puritans observe any act of punishment, from the execution of a hardened criminal to a child's whipping, all "solemnity of demeanour" and "meager… and cold" (2.2).
  • That's right: talk back to your parents, and instead of getting your smartphone taken away, you get whipped. Publicly.
  • The town mean girls gossip while they wait to watch Hester Prynne's punishment.
  • One says Hester should have been executed. Another says that Hester's punishment is way too light—just a letter A on the bodice of her dress, which could be easily covered up.
  • And then there's the third one, who scolds all of them and says that she's sure Hester Prynne will feel the mark every day.
  • When Hester Prynne appears in the doorway of the prison with her 3-month-old daughter in her arms, the women get seriously ticked off. There's the letter A on her chest all right, but she's embroidered it so it's actually become beautiful.

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  • The townspeople think she's mocking them and mocking her punishment.
  • Not so fast, says that same woman who scolded them before (we like this lady): she's certain that Hester felt each stroke of the needle in her heart.
  • Now the fun begins. Hester walks to the center of town, where she's placed in the pillory (a wooden structure where criminals are displayed to jeering crowds).
  • Standing there, she thinks of her mother, her father, and an unnamed scholar (weird), and she realizes that her scarlet A will always mark her as an outsider.
  • She squeezes her little baby so tightly that it starts crying, which we're pretty sure is SYMBOLIC.

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