Hester Prynne is the sinner who appears publicly up-righteous, defying the Puritan view of the ideal image of a sinner. As she leaves the prison, she encounters the community watching her exit. Hester presents herself as a rebellious individual who refuses to show the public her shame.
She is uncomfortable with the public’s attention, but she does not shy away from their knowledge of her sin. Hester furthermore accentuates the symbol of her sin, the scarlet letter. “It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy…but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.” (37) Hester’s scarlet letter is associated with beauty and fertility imagery, suggesting how she transforms her sin into an act that gives birth to goodness.
She channels her sin into doing good deeds for the community and takes good care of Pearl, dressing her in expensive clothes. “But little Pearl was not clad in rustic weeds. Her mother…had bought the richest tissues that could be procured…before the public eye.” (61) Hester chooses to clothe Pearl, the result of her sin and therefore the embodiment of evil itself, in beautiful garments, contrary to society’s belief that she is a demon-child and should not be clad in beauty. This is another instance of how Hester overcomes stifled Puritan society and displays her creative self-expression. Society’s view of her sin shows Hester’s individuality in the way she responded to her sin. As she exits the prison, a villager exclaims: “It were well if we stripped Madam Hester’s rich gown off her dainty shoulders; and as for the red letter, which she hath stitched so curiously, I’ll bestow a rag of mine own rheumatic flannel, to make a fitter one!” (38) Society believes that the most ideal way to deal with one’s sin is to show great shame and self-pity and to embody the image of guilt, but Hester does not conform.
Hester’s public way in dealing with her sin also presents a conformist side to her. She chooses to stay in the community in order to cleanse herself of her sin. “Here had been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her early punishment; and so, per change, the torture of her daily shame would at length purge her soul, and work out another purity than that which she had lost; more saint-like, because the result of martyrdom.” (55) Hester still holds the Puritan belief that people are predestined to go to heaven close to her heart.
Her acceptance of her punishment is due to her own values, but in choosing to stay, she establishes her inner desire to abide by the Puritan rules. She wears a “…dress of the coarsest materials and the most sombre hue; with only that one ornament,–the scarlet letter,–which it was her doom to wear.” (57) Her choice of garment symbolizes her submitting to the shame that society places on her, causing her to dress in discomfort and to hide her beauty that caused her sin. In private, Hester expresses the pain, grief and misery that engulfs her inside as she leaves the prison and is re-introduced into Puritan society as a sinner. Though she might often look proud in public, she is realistically letting the burden of her punishment become her identity. Chillingworth, the victim of Hester’s sin, privately took to seeking revenge and plotting evil upon the man that wronged him, establishing his individuality.“I shall seek this man…I shall see him tremble…Sooner or later, he must needs be mine!” (52) Chillingworth is obsessed with revenge and seeks vengeance upon the man who wronged him.
There is a tone of evil and madness, establishing his blood thirst. In public, he continues to be the revered physician of the sick Dimmesdale, while his aim in reality is to mentally torture Dimmesdale. However, Chillingworth’s vengeance starts to show itself in his physical changes. “How much uglier they were, – how his dark complexion seemed to have grown duskier, and his figure.