Adultery In The Scarlet Letter

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Nathaniel Hawthorne chose such a controversial topic as adultery for The Scarlet Letter, his nineteenth century novel of "seventeenth century sexual repression and hypocrisy", demonstrates a delicate yet changing climate with regard to disloyalty. “Historically, carrying on an adulterous affair back in such an era of Puritanism and traditional values was not taken lightly; in fact, by today 's standards, such horrific treatment for what is now considered an everyday occurrence was harsher than murders suffer by current standards” (Richard 453). Those who acted out of the normal in their era, as Hester Prynne did in The Scarlet Letter, paid a high price for their evanescent “pleasures of the flesh.” “In those days, Puritans saw adultery as "punishable…show more content…
private guilt plays an important role when contrasting the two different ways we perceive the book and what happens in reality. What Hawthorne sets out to portray, then, is how the private thoughts, the private torture and guilt and emotional destruction of the people involved in the affair, are more than enough punishment for the crime. Moreover, “legal statutes at the time and the prevailing sentiment of keeping in accordance with a strict interpretation of the Bible, adultery was a capital sin that required the execution of both adulterer and adulteress--or at the very least, severe public corporal punishment. Indeed, even if the husband wanted to keep his wife alive after she committed adultery, the law insisted that she would have to die for it” (Richard 460). It is in this environment that Hester commits adultery with Dimmesdale, but we come to see that the public shaming cannot begin to account for all the complexities of the illicit relationship--or the context of it. “On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter 'A. ' It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of…show more content…
Lastly, punishment vs. forgiveness, is one of the most compelling themes of the novel and is embodied by Chillingworth, who seems like the authority of moral judgment in the story, since Dimmesdale--the minister and the supposed purveyor of righteousness--is himself tainted as a party to the crime. Chillingworth is surprisingly forgiving of Hester 's crime. We sense that he understands why she would forsake him. "I do forgive you, Hester," replied the minister, at length, with a deep utterance out of an abyss of sadness, but no anger. "I freely forgive you now. May God forgive us both" (Hawthorne 400). Strangely enough, today’s ideals of punishment for adultery, can compare from how they were treated back then. Many religious people today, follow the same regulations for sinners. But society has its own worldly values, its own evolutionary, anti-God ideas that, left to themselves, translate into carnal nature. When the wealthy and the powerful set an example of sexual licentiousness, immorality and infidelity, what are we to expect? “Those old Lutheran theologians had a profound detestation of sin, and a supreme interest in the salvation of souls, and a sacred regard for the practice of chastity. They did not believe that the innocent ought to suffer for the sins of the guilty. They believed that the gospel was given to save men from sin, as well as from the penalties of sin” (Richard 461). “Condonation is only conditional forgiveness, and condoned
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