The Theme of Sin in the Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

617 WordsFeb 16, 20182 Pages
The first couple of chapters introduces us to Hester Prynne and begins to explore the theme of sin, along with its connection to knowledge and social order. This is a world that has already “fallen,” that already knows sin. They know that misbehavior, evil, and death are unavoidable. This belief fits into the larger Puritan doctrine, which puts heavy emphasis on the idea of original sin. While exposing sin is meant to help the sinner and provide an example for others, such exposure does more than merely protect the community. Hester becomes a scapegoat and gives the townspeople, particularly the women, a chance to demonstrate their own piety by condemning her as loudly as possible. Rather than seeing their own potential sinfulness in Hester, the townspeople see her as someone whose transgressions outweigh and obliterate their own errors. The women of the town criticize her for embroidering the scarlet letter, the symbol of her shame, with such care and in such a flashy manner: It seems to declare that she is proud, rather than ashamed, of her sin. In reality, Hester simply accepts the “sin” and its symbol as part of herself. The town has made Hester into a “living sermon” because she is stripped of her humanity and made to serve the needs of the community. Her punishment is expressed in violent terms. The men who sit in judgment of Hester are not only hypocritical but also ignorant. The narrator tells us that these ignorant men “had no right” to “meddle with a question of
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