Ignominy in the Puritan Community

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Yonatan Zeff Thelonious Johnson Block B English 3 Honors October 14, 2012 Ignominy in the Puritan Community The title of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter refers to the literal symbol of ignominy that Hester Prynne’s community forces her to wear as a reminder of her sin. Though the word “ignominy” is used in sympathetic passages that describe Hester Prynne’s disgrace as an adulteress and out-of-wedlock mother, its use at the same time reveals an extremely critical description of Hester’s community; Hawthorne finds that what is truly disgraceful is the way the community relishes and exploits the opportunity to punish one of its members. Through powerful diction and imagery describing Hester’s sin and through…show more content…
With this description, Hester’s humanity is maintained, even when the community, “all” of it, objectifies her as a teaching tool. The image of her heart “flung”, “spurn[ed] and trample[d] upon” demonstrates both the narrator’s sympathy toward Hester and animosity toward Puritan society, regardless of the age of the member. Shortly after his description of the schoolboy’s callous treatment of Hester, the narrator continues with a harsh account of the scaffold and pillory once employed upon it, “that instrument of discipline” that represented “the very ideal of ignominy” (52). The pillory reflects the nature of the community’s sense of justice, and the narrator finds it extremely harsh. The word “ideal,” often associated with perfection, suggests that the pillory signifies the ultimate desired effect of “ignominy:” public shame from which the sinner cannot turn away. Next, it would seem that Hawthorne speaks out directly and emotionally to the reader, declaring, “There can be no outrage, methinks, against our common nature, whatever be the delinquencies of the individual, - no outrage more flagrant than to forbid the culprit to hide his face for shame” (52). Hawthorn’s use of word “methinks” suggests his forceful personal address on this issue of cruelty; he weighs in powerfully against the malice of the Pilgrim community that punishes Hester, even if it has not subjected her to the pillory. The word “no” implies Hawthorne’s view that this punishment is

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