Adultery Explored in The Scarlet Letter Essay

Adultery Explored in The Scarlet Letter Essay

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That Nathaniel Hawthorne to chose such a controversial topic as adultery for The Scarlet Letter, his nineteenth century novel of "seventeenth century sexual repression and hypocrisy" (Zabarenko PG), demonstrates a delicate yet changing climate with regard to infidelity.
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 more harsh than murders suffer by current standards.
Those who acted out of the vows of matrimony centuries ago, as Hester Prynne did in The Scarlet Letter, paid a high price for their momentary pleasures of the flesh. In those days, the Puritans saw to it that such a crime was "punishable by death" (Zabarenko PG); behavior so unbecoming of a religious devotee deserved no less.
However, Prynne escaped such a fate when she did the unthinkable: she chose to sleep with a "self-righteous" (Zabarenko PG) priest who ultimately fathered her child. After her adulterous affair was discovered, Prynne's punishment of wearing a red A on her bodice acted as a vivid reminder to all who saw her.
Yet human beings were still human beings even back then -- it is just that extramarital affairs were not looked upon as an acceptable activity. While they are not exactly condoned within today's society, there has been a remarkable change in attitude toward the punishment of such sexual indiscretions compared to those of Hawthorne's time period.

"What people are saying is that this is wrong but the temptation is great and it's part of being human that we fall into temptation. The extra thing about adultery is that if a person admits they were wron...

... middle of paper ...

...oes nothing more than eat away at his heart and soul. Had they known of his participation, the townspeople would have relished the thought of such suffering.

Clearly, tolerance towards such acts of the flesh was not welcome in the time of The Scarlet Letter. In an oppressed, emotionally smothered community as theirs, it is no surprise they were unable to see past the adultery and into the true love that had captured the characters.


Barna, Mark Richard. "Nathaniel Hawthorne And The Unpardonable Sin.," The World & I, (1998) : vol. 13, pp. 324.

Grenier, Richard. "The Scarlet Letter Takes Liberties With History, Sin.," The Washington Times, (1995) : pp. PG.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "The Scarlet Letter." (New York: Bantam Books, 1986).

Zabarenko, Deborah. "U.S. Obsession With Adultery Harks Back To Puritans.," Reuters, (1997) : pp. PG.

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