17th Century Life/scarlet Letter Essay

This essay has a total of 980 words and 4 pages.

17th Century Life/scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne expresses the aspects of relationships,
religion, community, discipline and punishment in the puritan community of 17th century
Boston. Relationships between men and women were very constrained and that is what made
adultery such a bad sin in the eyes of everyone in the community. Religion seemed to
govern over all, people would look up to reverends and the community believed that fate
was their destiny. Public discipline and punishment were used to discourage everyone else
from committing the same crime or sin as the offending "criminal" did. The community was
to follow the beliefs of god and to do their duties the best they could, yet were there to
criticize and punish all who disobeyed the religion or laws. In 17th century Boston every
thing was very strict and everyone was expected to follow the laws, which makes Hester's
sin such an excellent example of the beliefs of that time period. The first scaffold scene
is very important because the scene sums up the beliefs of the general public at that
time, and gives a prospective of what Hester Prynne must deal with. In the beginning of
chapter two the scene is described as "it could have betokened nothing short of the
anticipated execution of some noted culprit,"(47) showing that the whole town was there
for a ruthless public punishment. The crowd was not there for an execution though, but
there for a public punishment of Hester Prynne who had committed adultery. A townsman
describes Hester's punishment to a stranger as, "they have doomed Mistress Prynne to stand
only a space of three hours on the platform of the pillory, and then thereafter, for the
remainder of her natural life, to wear a mark of shame upon her bosom."(58) This scene
shows the weight of values and morals upon society in the 17th century and how public
punishment was not only used as punishment but as a way to discourage others from
committing the same crime. The community was key in this punishment because it helped
alienate Hester and further her pain. The punishment brings forth Hester's underlying
pain, "[Hester] sent forth a cry she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and
even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and the shame were
real."(55) This pain only breaks surface once, yet throughout the whole story Hester must
deal with the shame and emotional pain of the scarlet letter. The stranger sums it up best
with the quotation, "Thus she will be a living sermon against sin, until the ignominious
letter be engraved upon her tombstone."Since religion was such a key part of their lives,
anyone who did disobey their god was looked down upon. What made religion ironic in this
story was how everyone looked up to a reverend that had committed the same sin as someone
they looked down upon severely. Dimmesdale says, "before the judgment-seat, thy mother,
and thou, and I, must stand together! But daylight of this world shall not see our
meeting!"(134) The reverend knows his sin and wants be punished with Hester and Pearl, yet
not until what he calls "judgement day." In the 17th century, Puritans believed that there
was a stern God who had decreed in advance the fate of each person for all time.
Therefore, there was not much people felt they could do to become a better person in God's
eyes but do his biding with their jobs. To increase their chances of getting to go to
heaven the townspeople would often get one step closer to God by getting close to a
religious leader, which was bad for Arthur Dimmesdale who was probably farther away from
God than everyone else because of his sin. Relationships were looked upon as something
sacred and a woman should be loyal to her husband. Once married it was considered a
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