Hester Prynne

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In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne lives in seclusion with her daughter Pearl. Hester has been shunned from Puritan society and now lives in the shelter of the wilderness. The clear contrast between Puritan society and life in the wilderness intensify the all too similar fight between light and darkness and ultimately can lead to the truth. Puritan society, ruled by a set of strict rules, is essentially in the dark and can not itself see the light. Many of the leaders of Boston are themselves breaking the rigid Puritanical laws. Governor Bellingham lives in a mansion whose “ brilliancy might have befitted Aladdin’s palace, rather then the mansion of a grave old Puritan ruler.” (pg. 98) Bellingham’s extravagant house shows the hypocrisy of the Puritans. They seek to punish those, like Hester, who break the laws of Puritan society but at the same time they too violate their own laws. The Puritans can not see the faults within themselves. Puritan society is seen as a place where “iniquity is searched out, and punished in the sight of rulers and people.” (pg. 58) The Puritans pride themselves on the uniform goodness of their town and their ways of dealing with sinful dissenters. Hester’s public appearance is seen as a blessing on the “righteous Colony of Massachusetts.” (pg. 50) The Puritans see their society as picturesque and proper. To them it is in essence the light shining bright in the darkness. An accurate comparison to this view would be the Garden of Eden of Adam and Eve. The Puritans see themselves as the perfect humans within the garden. Those people who, like Adam and Eve, become sinful “must be scourged out of the town” and then “driven with stripes into the shadows of the forest.” (pg. 46) Citizens not fit to live in the “paradise” of Boston were cast out into the shadow of the forest. Yet it is in the forest that Hester is actually in the light and can see for herself, the truth. Living in the wilderness, Hester Prynne is able to see the light of truth, as none in Puritan society can. The Puritans have punished Hester for her sin and she is now free to go where she pleases, yet she decides to stay in Boston. The woods are a haven for Hester and yet they are also a showcase for her sin.

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