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The Scarlet Letter

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“The Scarlet Letter”, the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne is about a woman named Hester Prynne who changes from the sinner of a Puritanical town to the holiest of them all. After giving birth, she is on the scaffold and is forced to wear a large red A on her chest for the rest of her life as punishment for being an adulterer. At that time, they all were led to believe that her husband died at sea for not returning to her in America. Soon, Hester meets her husband, Roger Chillingworth, who is under the guise of a doctor, seeks revenge over the man who sired the baby girl and Chillingworth makes Hester swear not to reveal him. She keeps her word, for three years, Chillingworth does not know who is “his man” until he realized that Mr. Dimmesdale, the Pastor, was unusually kinder to Hester and her girl child, Pearl. Chillingworth pretends to be Mr. Dimmesdale’s friend and they move into the same house. When Pearl is about seven, Hester is revered as holy to the people and Dimmesdale is on the verge of lunacy because Chillingworth attacks the Pastor’s conscience and guilt. Dimmesdale is the greatest Pastor in the town and he sinned, he cannot tell anyone in fear of losing his reputation and influence as a Pastor. Dimmesdale has been aware of great evil, but has been unable to tell who it is.
After a long time, Hester decides to tell Dimmesdale who Chillingworth is and what he has been doing to him. They decide to run away from the town and go to Europe on Election Day because Chillingworth revealed to Hester that he has no intention of stopping. Dimmesdale wants to stay to deliver his Election Day Speech. He does so, and it is his best speech ever, however, he finally admits to the public that he was the one that sinned with Hester all those years ago. He dies at the spot, and Chillingworth is upset because his victim escaped. The people have mixed reactions to Dimmesdale’s deaths, some accepted the truth, others believe that Dimmesdale is holy and carves an A upon himself as penance, and others believe that Chillingworth hurt him. Within a year, Chillingworth dies because he has nothing else to look for, and people go to Hester for advice. In the Epilogue, there is a similar scene with a mother and her children all wearing an A on their chests and they all know what it means. The Puritans have become far harsher than they were with Hester’s story.
The people that are stuck within their confining views often do not see things fairly or give the benefit of the human condition, imperfection. In this novel, the Puritans are the main force of inflexibility and lack of understanding.
“A sluggish bond-servant, or an undutiful child, whom his parents had given over to civil authority, was to be corrected at the whipping post. It might be that an Antinomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox religionist, was to be scourged out of town, or an idle and vagrant Indian, whom the white man’s firewater had made riotous about the streets, was to be driven with stripes into the shadow of the forest.”
The Puritans find that children and adults can be punished the same way for minor offenses or just by being different. The Puritans do not believe that children, that are not mentally on the same page as adults can be treated the same way. They also will take anyone that different by religion or appearance and push them out of their homogenous society. Finally, these believe in calling people that are native to the land, Indians. Indians come from the eastern country of India. The people are Native Americans; they should be treated with respect by the Puritans because it is their land. They were there long before Puritans ever heard of the existence of the land. How dare the Puritans scorn the rightful heirs of the land? The Puritans need to evaluate themselves for their modem operandi is mind-boggling. How could anyone be so cruel to their fellow human beings? Is it because they are worth less than the Puritans? Is the Puritanical viewpoint the only one that matters?
Another of the failings of people through most societies is the lack of respect for women. In the novel, Hester contemplates this,
“…with reference to the whole race of womanhood. Was existence worth accepting even to the happiest among them…she had long ago decided in the negative…As a first step, the whole system of society is to be torn down and built up anew. Then, the very nature of the opposite sex, or its long hereditary habit which has become like nature, is to be essentially modified before woman can be allowed to assume what seems to be fair and suitable position…woman cannot take advantage of these preliminary reforms until she herself shall have undergone a still mightier change…”
Hawthorne makes the point that the Puritanical society is corrupt, however, the cultures of the East and the West, even now are corrupted by making it a male-dominated society. This male dominant behavior is not natural, but is a habit which has been engraved into the minds of the people for well over two millennia. In the animal world, the females are higher than the males because the females birth the young, take care of them, as well as the males. In human mental inadequacy, we have deemed males to be better because we are different from the other animals and because we are taught to believe that men are smarter than females. If people allowed people to behave without any of our biases, we would find that women and men would treat themselves equally because one is not better than the other, however, this will never be allowed to happen unless we destroy all of our tributes to male dominated society and purge our minds from the mental poison. Also, women need to see that they are equal to men without being forced that way before they can even begin to make the men see them as equal. This will never work because man loves his mental institutions of book and brain to even attempt to be just.

The Puritans are the vehicle to show human injustices, from that time to even now, whether it be the way women, children, and people that are different are treated. Hawthorne wants to show us our failings as the human race.



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