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[27] he lets the sin elaborate itself, so far as Hester's nature is concerned, into nothing but beauty. She becomes more loving, more sympathetic, more tender; and intellectually she becomes emancipated from the narrowness of her age, so that even now she seems prophetic of what the noblest women may be. Thoughts were her companions which, says Hawthorne, would have been held more dangerous than the sin of the scarlet letter, had they been seen knocking at her door. She saw how completely the social scheme must be altered before woman can enjoy a true equality with man, and she suspected the losses in the best of manhood and womanhood which might be the incidental or temporary price of the belated justice.

The greatness of The scarlet letter, on repeated readings, seems to lie in this social interest, this inexorable study of the world as it is, which distinguishes Hawthorne from other Transcendentalists. The Puritan environment is represented as already dying, young as it was in the new world; at the outset of the story Hawthorne shows us that these courageous founders of religious liberty in the wilderness felt the necessity at once of building a prison and of setting up a pillory. The ideals which a little while before were an inner light for the community, carrying inevitable conviction, were now stiffened into convention and leaned upon force. In making the point that Hawthorne was no special admirer of Puritanism, we must add that neither was he a special critic of it; he used the Puritan moment in our history merely to illustrate the truth of all moments, that society conventionalizes its ideals and becomes cruel, and that time, which annihilates one set of conventions, substitutes another. But some specific criticism of Puritan New England, of New England in his own day, may be discerned in the fortunes of Hester, and may be still more clearly felt in Zenobia and in Miriam, the later heroines; these are all represented as physically beautiful, and as in some way estranged from life, and we wonder whether it was not their beauty rather than their conduct that alienated them from their environment. What career has a beautiful woman in New England?—Hawthore seems to ask, and he seems to imply that if she is conventional she may live down the handicap of beauty, but meantime she is dangerous to others and

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