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The Importance Of Human Punishment In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

Decent Essays
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter explores how the human condition and sin clash. Placing the characters in Puritan Boston, Hawthorne reveals the hypocrisy of a theocratic government, especially when it comes to punishment. Hester Prynne has committed adultery, a hideous sin which coincides as a malicious crime in such a government. The punishment consists of public humiliation branded on her chest until she dies. This type of government would lead anyone to despair, however, Hester does not allow society to decide her identity. The punishment of wearing the scarlet letter affects Hester Prynne’s personality and physical appearance, allowing her to grow as an individual, even though the people of Boston considered her to be an…show more content…
Her appearance and the way she wears the letter are contradictory to the intent of the punishment. For the townspeople, Hester is an example of sin and serves as a warning. Naturally, the people are surprised to see Hester, still radiating beauty despite all she has been through (51). A few years into her punishment, threatened by the clergy who seek to take Pearl away from her, she finds herself in a time of need. Hester does not seek help until this moment, in which she begs Dimmesdale to back her argument. (101, 106). Because of her isolation from society, an effect of the scarlet letter, Hester finds herself able to question authority easily. The strength, defiance, and confidence that dwell within her soul lets her avoid losing herself in the effects of the scarlet letter. These traits, strengthened during her punishment and humiliation, contribute to Hester Prynne’s individual growth by allowing her to embrace her own qualities and discover her natural abilities. In addition to Hester Prynne’s inner strength, the scarlet letter opens the door for her to explore her own mind and become a freethinker as she begins to view the world differently. Shamed away from society, Hester is alone with her own thoughts. Travelling through the marketplace, the gaze of the townspeople always seems to fall upon the scarlet letter. Hester is aware of their silent judgement; however, a new sense begins to develop within her from her
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