The Puritans believed people were born sinners. Puritan preachers depicted each human life as suspended by a string over the fiery pit of hell. As a result, the Puritans maintained strict watch over themselves and their fellow townspeople, and sins such as adultery were punishable by death. Hester is spared execution only because the Puritans of Boston decided it would benefit the community to transform her into a "living sermon against sin." But just as Hester turns the physical scarlet letter that she is forced to wear into a beautifully embroidered object, through the force of her spirit she transforms the letter's symbolic meaning from shame to strength.
Hester's transformation of the scarlet letter's meaning raises one of The Scarlet Letter's most important questions: What does it mean to sin, and who are the novel's real sinners? Hester's defiant response to her punishment and her attempts to rekindle her romance with Dimmesdale and flee with him to Europe shows that she never considered her affair with Dimmesdale to be a sin. The narrator supports Hester's innocence and instead points the finger at the novel's two real sinners: Dimmesdale and Chillingworth. Chillingworth's sin was tormenting Dimmesdale almost to the point of death; Dimmesdale's was abandoning Hester to lead a lonely life without the man she loved.
Sin Quotes in The Scarlet Letter
"Mother," cried she, "I see you here. Look! Look!"
Hester looked, by way of humoring the child; and she saw that, owing to the peculiar effect of this convex mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance. In truth, she seemed absolutely hidden behind it. Pearl pointed upward, also, at a similar picture in the head-piece; smiling at her mother, with the elfish intelligence that was so familiar an expression on her small physiognomy. That look of naughty merriment was likewise reflected in the mirror, with so much breadth and intensity of effect, that it made Hester Prynne feel as if it could not be the image of her own child, but of an imp who was seeking to mould itself into Pearl's shape.
"Come along, Pearl!" said she, drawing her away, "Come and look into this fair garden. It may be, we shall see flowers there; more beautiful ones than we find in the woods."
"Yes, I hate him!" repeated Hester, more bitterly than before. "He betrayed me! He has done me worse wrong than I did him!"
"Heaven would show mercy," rejoined Hester, "hadst thou but the strength to take advantage of it."
"Not now, dear child," answered Hester. "But in days to come he will walk hand in hand with us. We will have a home and fireside of our own; and thou shalt sit upon his knee; and he will teach thee many things, and love thee dearly. Thou wilt love him; wilt thou not?"
"And will he always keep his hand over his heart?" inquired Pearl.