Free Scarlet Letter Essays: Hester and the Puritan Society

Free Scarlet Letter Essays: Hester and the Puritan Society

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Hester and the Puritan Society of The Scarlet Letter


Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter, focuses on the Puritan society. The Puritan society molded itself and created a government based upon the Bible and implemented it with force. The crime of adultery committed by Hester generated rage, and was qualified for serious punishment according to Puritan beliefs. Ultimately the town of Boston became intensely involved with Hester's life and her crime of adultery, and saw to it that she be publicly punished and tortured. Based upon the religious, governmental, and social design of the Puritan society, Hester's entire existence revolved around her sin and the Puritan perception. Therefore it is evident within The Scarlet Letter that the Puritan community to some degree has constructed Hester's character.


In the novel The Scarlet Letter it is evident that the base of their social framework was that of the Church. The Church and beliefs of Protestantism became all encompassing within the town of Boston; meaning that the Church would be directly involved in the running of the community and its regime. The Enforcing of laws were established by scripture read from the Bible, as the Puritans considered the Bible as the "true law" of God that provided guidelines for church and government. Those who disagreed or committed crimes against the government, were not only criminals but also sinners, and they were sought to be punished severely. The Puritans stressed grace, devotion, prayer, and self-examination to achieve religious virtue while including a basic knowledge of unacceptable actions of the time; this was expected to secure order and peace within the Puritan community. The Puritan culture is one that recognizes Protestantism, a sect of Christianity. Though a fundamental of Christianity is forgiveness for one's sins, this seems to have been forgotten amongst the women of the community: "Morally, as well as materially, there was a coarser fiber in those wives and maidens of old English birth and breeding, than in their fair descendants." As read between the lines we can notice a concern in Hester's acceptance within the Puritan community. More so, Hester senses a lack of acceptance within the circle of woman in the community. The use of the term "coarser fiber" intertwines the relationship that she once had, and what it has become within the woman of the community. It has also come to my attention that when Hester compares the women of the community to their descendants, she clarifies that the women of the community have become deviant, and or immoral to their religious past.

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This is concluded when Hester is first brought out of her prison cell, and is introduced back into the community. When Hester is first brought out of her prison cell, the gossiping goodwives recommend much harsher punishment, from a brand on her forehead to death. Hester, who had done little wrong prior to this sin of adultery, is no longer seen as a human being, but merely as a symbol of evil and shame to the town. The Puritans, one of the most devoted groups of Bible scholars, forget one of Jesus' most famous of quotes, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." The women forget to look inside themselves before they cast their opinions upon Hester. It is not these people's right to determine Hester's punishment, not the women's nor the magistrates'; such a right is reserved only for God. Hester soon found herself very much a part of the local Church and government's heavy hand. Everyone was aware of her sinful act, for she was placed on a scaffold amidst the entire town for a painful viewing. The religious morals instilled in the Puritan society caused her much pain long after the public humiliation. Permanently "symbolized as a sinner," Hester was branded for life with a cloth letter worn on her bosom.


The letter "A" that was sown onto the bosom of Hester had become a symbol of sin and was intimately associated with Hester. Because the Puritans shaped religion, social life, and the government together, each member of the society was involved in the religion, social life, and government-everybody in Boston saw the "A" on Hester's chest in the same light. Also, each member thought alike and would make sly remarks at Hester and her child. The two became objects of cruel jokes, and were made fun of as "an exhibition" every time they ventured into town. Hester furthered her interaction with society and in doing so also increased the amount of ridicule she received. With the motive to penalize herself, Hester set forth towards her social life, which she thought God had appointed to her as punishment for her sins. The punishment received by Hester in the novel was based upon the Puritan religious, social, and governmental beliefs, structured into a single ideology, which was formed from their English experience and complete commitment to religion. The Church and the government, one in the same, sentenced Hester to a life of embarrassment, first upon a scaffold, and later with the letter "A": "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 the colony." The cloth letter presented on Hester's chest opened a door for continuous public humiliation and involvement. By definition, the letters: fancy, fantastic, gold-thread, gorgeous luxuriance was what ultimately centered her as an outcast among her community. The letter possessed extravagant embroidery, which had only been seen upon the aged and the royalty of their English parliament. Hester herself became aware of the letter's brilliance and relevance, as the "A" characterized Hester's immoral position; for such embroidery was "greatly beyond what was allowed." Hester's sin encased her and caused the Puritan society, because of its moral and collective structure, to become the most significant aspect of her life. Because of this it was expected of Hester, from the community, and also by herself to follow the Puritan way of life, and so she did.


Through the Puritan community Hester's character had evolved from the shame of town, to a well respected individual. But it is through those times of trial and tribulation, that Hester has outlined her character, as strong and virtuous. When the ordeal at the market place finally ends, Hawthorne reverses the roles, as Hester is the only person in town without sin while the townspeople have become hopeless and self-righteous. Hester continues her life, secluded on the outskirts of town. She is obviously repentant, as she chooses to remain in Boston, even when she is free to go elsewhere and start a new life. "Here... had been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment; and so, perchance, the torture of her daily shame would at length purge her soul, and work out another purity than that which she had lost; more saint-like because the result of martyrdom." She had become a modest woman, seeking nothing but having her sin be forgiven, in the place where it had been committed. Hester proves herself strong minded and willed, as she lives her life through "the torture of her daily shame." The word torture, in the previous quote is an example of excellent word use, as it illustrates one's mental strengths. Torture by definition has been defined as the inflicting of severe pain to force information or confession. For Hester to go through such torture daily seems almost inconceivable, but because she survived, Hester had become known as a strong woman.


In conclusion Hester had come to accept the Puritan religion, and punishment of adultery. Hester had also come to, and risen above, the expectations that were set upon her. She had been ostracized by the Puritan community, but survived "the torture of her daily shame." Hester became to the community, a symbol of a strong minded individual to the people of Boston. Though the novel clearly signifies Hester as a strong woman mentally and physically, there is another aspect to which she proves to be a valuable asset. Hester Prynne and her lecherous sin are Hawthorne's means of conveying a different message; Hawthorne in his novel, uses Hester's character to uncover the flaws of puritan society and the hypocrisy of their reactions to Hester. The character of Hester Prynne is created as to exploit these flaws. In the end Hester becomes a character of feminism, and one that is not only delineated by the Puritan community, but one that delineates the Puritan society.


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