The Scarlet Letter is a novel that deals with the never-ending
theme of sin. Throughout history, people have committed all
types of sins, and whether they are major or minor, people
have been punished. However, the severity of a punishment
is very difficult to agree on. Some people feel that sinners
should be deeply punished no matter how little the
wrongdoing was. Others feel that a person’s punishment
should be based upon the severity of their crime. However,
what many people overlook is the fact that in time, we all
have committed sins. In The Scarlet Letter, the idea of sin
and punishment is the main theme of the novel and how
Hester Prynne, the main character, has been punished for
her sin of adultery. As Nathaniel Hawthorne states in this
novel, “In the view of Infinite Purity, we are sinners all alike.”
This statement puts a big question mark on the true lives of
the Puritans. If we all have once committed a moral
wrongdoing, why is this young woman so harshly punished
for her sin? Hester Prynne was a young woman living in a
Puritan community in the “New World.” Her husband, Roger
Chillingworth was said to be lost at sea, and Hester assumed
his death. Upon this basis, young Hester committed a crime
of adultery with her fellow Minister Arthur Dimmesdale. The
result of this extra marital affair was the birth of young Pearl,
an “elf-like” child. When the townspeople become aware of
what Hester has done, they forced her to wear an ultimate
sign of punishment, the scarlet letter. This letter “A” for
adultery had to be worn on Hester’s bosom at all times.

However, Roger Chillingworth returns from sea and now
seeks revenge on Hester’s lover. When one analyzes the
punishment inflicted upon her, it may seem harsh and cruel,
especially for a Puritan society. It seems that Hawthorne
agrees with this as well. Throughout the novel, it seems
apparent that Hawthorne feels that the punishment Hester
received was harsh and self-degrading. When one commits a
sin, they should understand their mistake, receive their
blame, and receive a “slap on the wrist.” However, the
punishment Hester received was far worse emotionally.

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Wearing the letter made Hester the talk-about of the town.

When she walked through the marketplace, she received
scornful looks, as if society was rejecting her for her
wrongdoing. Hester was now living on the outskirts of town,
isolated from neighbors and trying to communicate with her
daughter Pearl. After many years of being swept out of
society, Hester realized that her punishment was far worse
than she deserved. Many times throughout the novel,
Hawthorne sympathizes with Hester because of the
emotional problems she encounters. Hawthorne sees her as
the victim quite oftenly and blames it on her youth. She was
forced to marry Roger Chillingworth at a young age,
although she clearly had no feelings for him. Secondly,
Hester’s crime was one out of passion, not malice. It is clear
throughout the novel that she has strong feelings for
Dimmesdale and they outweigh her respect for the Puritan’s
code of law. Although Hawthorne does not condone
adultery, he often feels that Hester’s sin is somewhat out of
necessity. She has nobody in her life. Her husband is lost at
see and she lives with nobody. Dimmesdale was the first
man Hester really loved, and he feels that because of these
circumstances, her punishment far outweighed her crime.

Throughout the novel, it is very clear that Hester does not
abide by most Puritan traditions and she clearly is not very
orthodox. However, at times in the novel, it seems that she
has overcome her guilt and her love for Pearl is unmatched,
yet the scarlet letter always reminds her of her adulterous sin.

A human is very fragile and many things can hurt or upset
them. As Hawthorne expresses, it is clear to Puritans that
they have little or no sympathy for unruly persons.

Hawthorne feels that once she has over come her guilt and
has accepted her punishment, then Hester should be able to
start over from scratch and unload this heavy burden from
her back. However, that doesn’t happen. This sin remains
with Hester for seven years until her death, and the Puritan
community never seems to forgive her for her sins. It is very
clear that in this novel, Hawthorne is attempting to express
his feelings on Puritan life and their rigid beliefs towards
transgressors. However, people should be able to leave the
past behind them and start over, yet that never seems to
happen, and Hester is forced to drag this guilt around with
her, until her last breath of air.
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