While being a elegantly written and composed story the tale of a puritan society I believe was better told by Arthur Miller in his "The Crucible". It seems that Nathaniel Hawthorne tries to convey how the all pervasive power of stifling religion kills life, love and all pursuits of pleasure but he does it in an almost confused way. The ending in particular felt rather ambiguous in the context of the rest of the narrative. Was Hawthorne condemning a moral standard that would cast judgement upon such a woman as Hester or was he instead admitting that their 'love' as it were was greater than the onlooking judgement of such a puritan society.
I personally believe any super rigid form of lifestyle is negative. If there's no room for a person to grow then how can they truly live. I disagree in particular with the lifestyles of the Puritans and believe any such work focusing on their communities could serve, as with The Crucible, as a warning to avoid such strict religion. Because the Bible as I read it does not mention a life of virtual slavery to rules and regulations as the pinnacle of the Christian faith but rather reveals to me that life is meant to be lived in freedom. It is Pharisaical religion - puritanism - that binds itself to such strict lifestyles. In my view this novel while well written, and with an excellent plot, was simply too morally ambiguous.
Hawthorne clearly does criticize the religious institutions which would condemn Hester and her child to a life of constant despite. Yet at the same time he does not give an indication as to whether it was wrong for Hester to cheat upon her husband is it were. Perhaps some would say that this was due to the implications being that yes Hester did wrong but the members of the community did more wrong to her. I didn't read that implication in this work. Instead it came across to me that Hawthorne was confused about what truly was morally right in a way. Where I would state that all within the book were sinners Hawthorne attempted to divide up the characters into levels of guilt and I really don't believe in that.
Still would I recommend this story? Yes I would if for the sheer enjoyment of the language. However if you want a moral warning I would instead direct the audience to The Crucible - a far better warning in my mind. For in that play even the 'hero' recognizes himself a sinner.