17th Century Life/Scarlet Letter

This essay has a total of 962 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

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