Social Punishment In The Scarlet Letter

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New England was driven by a strict set of religious values in the 1600s. This is made abundantly clear by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his novel, The Scarlet Letter, set in 17th century Massachusetts. At the time law and religion were virtually one and the same. The Puritans who settled the region essentially codified their rigid beliefs. Committing an act that went against this harsh moral code could result in not only prosecution, but cruel social punishment as well. The Puritans’ attitude towards sin was stern, which is shown when an act of adultery is committed in The Scarlet Letter. Fueled by their strict beliefs and governed by their harsh laws, Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, and the Boston community as a whole each had their own reactions…show more content…
It was small, close knit and exceedingly religious. Consequently, the community’s reaction to the perceived sin was neither accepting nor kind. Immediately after Hester Prynne had been charged with adultery, there were some townspeople that felt her punishment of ignominy was too merciful. One woman went so far as to say, “This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is there not law for it? Truly, there is, both in the scripture and the statute-book” (Hawthorne 49). After her initial punishment at the pillory, Hester as well as her daughter, Pearl, were ostracized. Pearl was unable to play with other children, as she was, “An imp of evil, emblem and product of sin, she had no right among christened infants” (Hawthorne 85). Hester was avoided in public. People would walk a distance away from her just to avoid contact. When Hester was eventually spoken to, Hawthorne described the action as something, “few of the townspeople would have ventured on; to begin conversation with the wearer of the scarlet letter, in public” (215). The community did not react tolerantly towards Hester or her sin, which perhaps contributed to the way she reacted to it
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