Visions of a Past Society
In a world where society is disorganized, unhappy, and chaotic, it can be extremely difficult to provide an honest, and just law system. As a result, in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, people use their religion (Puritan), as judge, jury, and executioner. For some people, it can be very troublesome to live a normal life when you are surrounded by biased and chauvinistic men and women. In this story, Hester Prynne is a victim of her religion, and her fellow townsfolk.
Throughout the book, Hawthorne writes about the townspeople and how they act
and behave towards each other, Hester, and life in general. The novel starts with Hester walking towards the town scaffold to be seen for public display, because she committed the crime of adultery.
A lane was forthwith opened through the crowd of spectators. Preceded by the beadle, and attended by an irregular procession of stern-browed men and unkindly visaged women, Hester Pyrnne set forth towards the place appointed for her punishment. A crowd of eager and curious schoolboys, understanding little of the matter in hand except that it gave them a half-holiday, ran before her progress, turning their heads continually to stare into her face, and at the wink-ing baby in her arms, and at the ignominious letter on her
breast. P. 52, 53
As this is happening, all the people see is the crime that Hester committed, not the person behind it. They do not take into consideration, that the crime itself, is not as evil as they make it out to be. Hawthorne describes it as enjoyable to the spectators, by showing the
children watch her and laugh as she makes her way to the scaffold. It's as though the people of the Puritan religion are heartless, ruthless, cold blooded, and that what is going on, is considered fun.
Aside from forcing Hester to stand on the scaffold, they make her knit an "A" onto her chest. The "A" symbolizes adultery. The plan was for people to look upon this symbol, pity her, and make Hester feel deprived of humanity. Instead of knitting a
simple "A", Hester designs a very complex and elaborate one. The reaction from the people shows how evil some of them truly are.
"It were well," muttered the most iron-visaged of the old dames, if we stripped Madam Hester's rich gown off her dainty shoulders; and as for the red letter, which she hath stitched so curiously, I'll bestow a rag of mine own rheumatic flannel, to make a fitter one!" P. 52
Hawthorne shows how he thinks the Puritan people would react to the manner in which Hester stitched the "A", and he does not make them look very pleasant. By showing them as being ruthless, and evil, Hawthorne is able to reveal his views of the Puritan people, and how he dislikes them through the townsfolk (the woman in particular). He makes them come across as people you would love to hate.
Hawthorne seems to think that the Puritan religion is too strict and harsh. You can see how he dislikes them by the way people act, talk, and live.
My imagination was a tarnished mirror. It would not reflect, or only with miserable dimness, the figures with which I did my best to people it. The characters of the narrative would not be warmed and rendered malleable by any heat that I could kindle at my intel-
lectual forge. They would take neither the glow of passion nor the tenderness of sentiment, but retained all the rigidity of dead corpses, and stared me in the face with a fixed and ghastly grin of contemptuous defiance. P. 33-34
Hawthorne is saying that he has a biased view of the Puritan people from the beginning. Whatever he tries to do to make the characters in the book seem innocent, or good, is extremely hard for him. He sees them as evil in the heart, and nothing can change his mind.
Throughout the entire book, Hester was looked down upon (though slightly less as the story progressed), and treated like a second class citizen. Hawthorne shows his distaste of the Puritan culture by expressing himself through the characters and their actions. Not one person in this novel was truly good, and all the characters sinned. It is impossible to have a perfect society, and Nathaniel Hawthorne explains to us in The Scarlet Letter, that one ruled by the Puritan religion, proves this true.
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