The Scarlet Letter
A classic like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter “perpetrates bad morals (The Church Review),” takes on the themes of pride, sin and vengeance with a burning passion when Hester:
“Yonder woman … was the wife of a certain learned man, English by birth, but who had long ago dwelt in Amsterdam,”
was publicly branded as an adulterer, the people around town began to think of her as a figure of evil and that she symbolizes all that is wrong in the world:
“But the point which drew all eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer—so that both men and women who had been familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynne were now impressed as if they beheld her for the first time—was that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom.”
Hester Prynne's adultery causes her alienation from the Puritan society in which she lives. After the term of her confinement ends, she moves into a remote, secluded cottage on the outskirts of town; because of this seclusion from society, the Puritans regard her with much curiosity and suspicion:
"Children...would creep nigh enough to behold her plying her needle at the cottage window... and discerning the scarlet letter on her breast, would scamper off with a strange, contagious fear."
There is a catch, however; her husband has been missing for years. Hester is sent to prison, where she gives birth and calls the child Pearl—A born outcast of the infantile world,” for she is her mother's only treasure.
As her punishment, Hester is brought into the marketplace and is forced to wear a Scarlet Letter “A” upon her breast, which she proudly embroiders with gold thread. Hester is satisfied, and ready to lead a quiet life with Pearl, her child, as a seamstress as she had before, but her composure leads us to wonder:
Who is the child's father, and how will he cope with his guilt?
And when the clever husband returns, shall the father survive his venomous wrath?
Arthur Dimmesdale “a real existence on earth,” Hester’s partner in adultery, is a minister, whom the people calls:
"A true priest, a true religionist, with the reverential sentiment largely developed, and an order of mind that impelled itself powerfully along the track of creed"
The experience of Hester and Dimmesdale recalls the story of Adam and Eve because, in both cases, sin results in expulsion and suffering but it also results in knowledge. For Hester, the scarlet letter functions as "her passport into regions where other women dared not tread," leading her to "speculate" about her society and herself more "boldly" than anyone else in New England. As for Dimmesdale, the "cheating minister," his sin gives him:
"Sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind, so that his chest vibrate in unison with theirs."
Prynne and Dimmesdale infringe the seventh commandment which says “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” On the contrary, Hester believes in the sanctity of the love relationship between her and Dimmendale as she says:
“What we did … had a consecration of its own. We felt it so; we said so to each other.”
It is also viewed by the puritan community as "Able, So strong was Hester Prynne with a woman's strength," The letter A is to be precise, also becomes "the cross on a nun's bosom" In keeping with her status as a sister of Mercy, Hester's dark , oriental beauty also undergoes a change:
"It was a sad transformation, too, that her rich and luxuriant hair had been cut off.”
Hester is transformed from a sinful woman into an “Angelic Sister of Mercy” and from a dark, voluptuous oriental woman into a nun who deliberately suppresses her youth and beauty.
Why did Hester Prynne keep secrets that ended up hurting everyone? Hester can atone for her sin of adultery, but every day that she keeps the secret of her lover, and the true identity of Roger Chillingworth a secret she is committing a sin.
“Take heed how thou deniest to him—who, perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself---the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips!”
Another theme is the extreme legalism of the Puritans; rejected Hester spent her life mostly in solitude, and wouldn't go to church and cries:
“There is one worse than even the polluted priest … That old man’s revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester, never did so.”
Now the question comes in the mind, would it not have been better to have his sin revealed? Then, the minister is given another chance to redeem himself but he cowers yet again when Hester and Pearl stand with him Pearl asks: “Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, tomorrow noontide?”
Wild conclusion conclude, Hester Prynne's offense against society occurred seven years earlier, but she remains punished for it. Hester learned to forgive herself for her adultery, but society continues to scorn her for it. (One might remember Jean Valjean's permanent identity as criminal after a single minor crime in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.) Hawthrone seems ready to assert, at times the converse of Christ’s words:
“If ye were blind, ye should have no sin.”
All in all novel “created an allegorical view of life upon which early Puritan society was based (Yvor Winters).”