The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, contains many profound characters. The townspeople intrigue the reader because they gradually evolve throughout the book, as would any solitary character. In the beginning of the novel, they are generally rigid and judgmental towards Hester, because she has committed adultery. Throughout the novel, they slowly allow Hester and her daughter into their community, but still look at them with suspicion and doubt. Finally, in the end of The Scarlet Letter, the town forgives her of her sin, and she cautiously finds her place in society. Hawthorne uses the strict Puritan townspeople as a criterion by which all societies can be measured.
The townspeople, as with any individual character, possess a certain depth that develops with knowledge. Readers generally characterize the Puritan Townspeople in The Scarlet Letter by their attitudes in the beginning of the novel. When Hester first walks into the scene, most of the townspeople are very harsh and strict in their religions. They believe that adultery is one of the worst sins possible. One unyielding woman says, 'This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is there not law for it? Truly, there is, both in the Scripture and in the statute book.
Then let the magistrates, who have made it of no effect, thank themselves if their own wives and daughters go astray.' ; Although a young woman and a righteous man try to intervene with the angry old women, their voices are never heard. Also, Hawthorne associates ugliness with wickedness; therefore, all of the stingy women are described as being very ugly. They regard her not as a fellow sinner but as a woman so evil that she must be ostracized from her 'perfect'; community. They view the scarlet letter that she wears upon her breast as a symbol of her atrocious crime of adultery and nothing more.
The women in the beginning of the novel are so quick to pass judgment on others, yet they fail to recognize the sin in themselves. Once they realize this obstacle, the townspeople will become more understanding of Hester's situation. Throughout the novel, the harsh Puritan townspeople begin to realize the abilities of Hester despite her past. Hester works selflessly and devotes herself to the well being of others. 'Hester sought not to acquire anything beyond a subsistence of the plainest and most ascetic description, for herself, and a simple abundance for her child.' ; The townspeople begin to see the scarlet letter that she wears in a whole new light. Its meaning changes from 'adultery'; to 'able.' ; They grasp the idea that although she has had a complicated and possibly sinful past, she is still capable of good deeds and has a place in their society.
Products of Hester's inventive mind become accepted by the Puritan community, and 'her handiwork became what would now be termed the fashion.' ; As Hester grows, the townspeople gain a new sort of open-mindedness allowing them to grant her an abode in their municipality. However, this new attitude is tainted because many Puritans maintain feelings of hatred towards an evil sinner. They often stare at her scarlet letter, alienating her from the town. 'They accordingly stood, fixed there by the centrifugal force of the repugnance which the magic symbol inspired.' ; Although the townspeople allow Hester to return to society, she is still viewed as a disgrace. In the end of the novel, the townspeople finally come to accept the idea that Hester and Pearl have just as equal parts in the society as the townspeople have. They hold respect for her because of her strength in times of anguish and despair.
'Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her penitence... the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world's scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with reverence, too.' ; Her scarlet letter became a legacy, and people remembered the woman associated with the letter rather than the act. Nathaniel Hawthorne uses the townspeople in his novel The Scarlet Letter as a criterion against which other societies can be weighed. The Puritan townspeople bring forth and inspire forgiveness.
Readers can hypothesize that because such a harsh society is capable of such a simple act, all people are competent to forgive. The Puritan society, by evolving throughout the novel, shows a human nature to forgive.