In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story, The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne had been outcast by the town and forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” on her clothing because of an adulterous affair. Although her reputation seemed ruined forever, a life of kindness and service, over a number of years, had changed the attitudes of her neighbors towards her. In the end the scarlet letter “had not done its office”, as Hawthorne writes, of shaming and destroying her but instead it had enabled her to learn humility through suffering and introspection.
Individuals in private life, meanwhile, had quite forgiven Hester Prynne for her frailty; nay, more, they had begun to look upon the scarlet letter as the token, not of that one sin, for which she had borne so long and dreary a penance, but of her many good deeds since. “Do you see that woman with the embroidered badge?” they would say to strangers. “It is our Hester,—the town’s own Hester,—who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted!