The Scarlet Letter is a novel that deals with the never-endingtheme of sin. Throughout history, people have committed alltypes of sins, and whether they are major or minor, peoplehave been punished. However, the severity of a punishmentis very difficult to agree on. Some people feel that sinnersshould be deeply punished no matter how little thewrongdoing was. Others feel that a person’s punishmentshould be based upon the severity of their crime. However,what many people overlook is the fact that in time, we allhave committed sins. In The Scarlet Letter, the idea of sinand punishment is the main theme of the novel and howHester Prynne, the main character, has been punished forher sin of adultery. As Nathaniel Hawthorne states in thisnovel, “In the view of Infinite Purity, we are sinners all alike.
“This statement puts a big question mark on the true lives ofthe Puritans. If we all have once committed a moralwrongdoing, why is this young woman so harshly punishedfor her sin? Hester Prynne was a young woman living in aPuritan community in the “New World.” Her husband, RogerChillingworth was said to be lost at sea, and Hester assumedhis death. Upon this basis, young Hester committed a crimeof adultery with her fellow Minister Arthur Dimmesdale. Theresult of this extra marital affair was the birth of young Pearl,an “elf-like” child. When the townspeople become aware ofwhat Hester has done, they forced her to wear an ultimatesign of punishment, the scarlet letter.
This letter “A” foradultery had to be worn on Hester’s bosom at all times.However, Roger Chillingworth returns from sea and nowseeks revenge on Hester’s lover. When one analyzes thepunishment inflicted upon her, it may seem harsh and cruel,especially for a Puritan society. It seems that Hawthorneagrees with this as well.
Throughout the novel, it seemsapparent that Hawthorne feels that the punishment Hesterreceived was harsh and self-degrading. When one commits asin, they should understand their mistake, receive theirblame, and receive a “slap on the wrist.” However, thepunishment Hester received was far worse emotionally.Wearing the letter made Hester the talk-about of the town.When she walked through the marketplace, she receivedscornful looks, as if society was rejecting her for herwrongdoing. Hester was now living on the outskirts of town,isolated from neighbors and trying to communicate with herdaughter Pearl.
After many years of being swept out ofsociety, Hester realized that her punishment was far worsethan she deserved. Many times throughout the novel,Hawthorne sympathizes with Hester because of theemotional problems she encounters. Hawthorne sees her asthe victim quite oftenly and blames it on her youth. She wasforced 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 clearthroughout the novel that she has strong feelings forDimmesdale and they outweigh her respect for the Puritan’scode of law. Although Hawthorne does not condoneadultery, he often feels that Hester’s sin is somewhat out ofnecessity.
She has nobody in her life. Her husband is lost atsee and she lives with nobody. Dimmesdale was the firstman Hester really loved, and he feels that because of thesecircumstances, her punishment far outweighed her crime.Throughout the novel, it is very clear that Hester does notabide by most Puritan traditions and she clearly is not veryorthodox. However, at times in the novel, it seems that shehas 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 upsetthem. As Hawthorne expresses, it is clear to Puritans thatthey have little or no sympathy for unruly persons.
Hawthorne feels that once she has over come her guilt andhas accepted her punishment, then Hester should be able tostart over from scratch and unload this heavy burden fromher back. However, that doesn’t happen. This sin remainswith Hester for seven years until her death, and the Puritancommunity never seems to forgive her for her sins.
It is veryclear that in this novel, Hawthorne is attempting to expresshis feelings on Puritan life and their rigid beliefs towardstransgressors. However, people should be able to leave thepast behind them and start over, yet that never seems tohappen, and Hester is forced to drag this guilt around withher, until her last breath of air. Book Reports