Hawthornes Critique of the Scarlet Letter

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The idea of a gender being more superior has been present throughout history and is especially present in the Puritan society which has a structure of the man being the head of the family. In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne he talks a lot about the Puritan values of sins, qualities of being a good citizen and nature and how they impact the story. Throughout the book we see character reactions and choices that reflect the society they live in. Hawthorne shows his critics of the Puritan society using Hester and Dimmesdale who are the main characters and have the issues of being together as they are rejected by society. Hester has committed adultery with Dimmesdale which is regarded as a sin and Dimmesdale holds on to this secret by not revealing to the town which makes him feel guilty that Hester has to be by herself. It becomes clear to the reader that Hawthorne indeed does critique the Puritan ideology in the Scarlet Letter as Hawthorne implies most of the conflicts are the result of the strict Puritan values and towards the intolerant, hypocritical, and judgemental characteristics of the Puritan society.

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The Puritan values are enforced in the story by the law which will result in the conflicts and the idea of oppression. Throughout The Scarlet Letter we see Hester being outcasted for her sins when she comes out of prison she is criticized for cheating and being threatened and even one of the women saying being of mature age and church members in good repute, should have the handling of Hester Prynne(53). The law is working with the society making it more difficult to live as Hester is the target of the story. If the Puritan values were not enforced by the law the stories main plot would vanish and Hawthorne believes that this idea of a Puritan society is what makes it oppressive as they target the women more than the man. The society has a double standard that should not be in place due to the religion. Example of this are the governor who lives in a mansion and Hawthorne points this out to show that even high ranking individuals sin. Making the argument that what Hester did was no better than what the officials are doing as they are also going against the ideals of the Puritan society. Overall, the Puritan society enforcement of values encourages oppression.

Another instance that shows how strict Puritan values is it’s the sole reason for the internal battles each character faces in the story. While Hester and Chillingworth were in a heated argument Chillingworth then says My finger pointed at this man,would have hurled him from his pulpit into a dungeon(178). From this one can say that Chillingworth does not like the fact Dimmesdale is not being punished. Due to the strict Puritan values the relationship between Dimmesdale and Hester is a sin and this was the cause of the whole story conflict. Hawthorne tries to hint towards sympathy in the characters to make the community hatred less present. Most of the towns people do not show this type of attitude towards Hester as they gossip about her when she walks through town. The Puritan values resulted in a the internal conflicts that could be avoided easily and this is why Hawthorne did not agree with the society as trouble starts for illogical reasons.

Next, Hawthorne then starts by talking about how judgemental the Puritans are of other religions and toward those who have sin. Hawthorne then states, On the other hand, a penalty which, in our days, would infer a degree of mocking or ridicule, might then be invested with almost as stern dignity as the punishment of death itself. (Hawthorne 12). Essentially Hawthorne is trying to show that Hesters sin would not be such a big deal if she came to the present, but the Puritans saw that Hesters act was an issue that can result in someones death or punishment that would humiliate Hester. The Puritans have a tendency to judge very quickly to someones punishment if they have sinned without having the opinion of the person who has done said sin or anyone who was involved for that matter. This can be seen as Hawthorne points out in the story that the jail and cemetery are ready to be used at a give notice. Hawthorne criticizes the Puritan society by showing that the minister and people are very judgemental and are quick to blame others for actions and this is why Hawthorne sees the Puritan religion and overall culture as a flaw.

Another thing Hawthorne points out in the story is that the people in the town do not take kindly to other sources of beliefs and are not very open minded to new ideas. As the Puritans believe that colonist who do not believe or convert to their religion will most likely not be accepted into Gods kingdom and they will be sent to hell and this make Hawthorne think they are arrogant as Hawthorne writes, disporting themselves in such grim fashion as the Puritan Nature would permit, playing at going to church, perchance, or at scourging Quakers, or taking scalps in a sham-fight with the Indians. (Hawthorne 70). The word usage shows a disrespect that the children have towards those who do not believe the same thing they do. This illustrates that the children in the society are raised into this mindset and that they are to disregard any sort of other facts or religion even if they seem to be more logical than their opinion. Since the Puritans are taught from their own religion and bible and not being taught this way would be a sin according to the Puritans which makes people intolerable to other beliefs since they are strict about this factor.

Finally, Hawthorne criticizes the entire plot the story is based off. The reader can see this because Dimmesdale is an eloquent and respected minister, yet he is the one who committed adultery with Hester and did not confess his sin making him go against the beliefs that he should be following. And even when Dimmesdale finally admits to his own sin at the end of the story the people that are listening to him are in disbelief and they believe he is trying to be humble man in his final day of life according to the people and the Puritans praise him for this The minister well knew- subtle, but remorseful hypocrite that he was! (Hawthorne 98). Essentially it means that Dimmesdale is perhaps the most sinful in his church and knows this which makes him do actions that are questionable. Dimmesdale is torn about telling everyone about his secret and thats the reason on why he waits till the very last moment to finally confess which is a sin as well. The character Chillingworth knows what Dimmesdale has done and purposely torture him knowing full well that Dimmesdale will not confess and he takes advantage of this. Hawthorne uses Chillingworth as a person to show off the flaws of Dimmesdale and to make sure the reader knows that what Dimmesdale has done is not following the rules of the Puritan society, Dimmesdale is torn apart not telling anyone about his sin and he wanted to tell its that he is concerned about his position being taken away from him if this is revealed about himself causing him to hold on and feel guilty.

Overall Hawthorne becomes a critic as he does not embrace the Puritan ideology in The Scarlet Letter and instead he deems the Puritan society with flaws and has strict values which will lead to the whole story conflict. Hawthorne shows the life of Hester Prynne and throughout the whole story is seen as an outcast and is oppressed by the whole town. Due to the oppression and the strict values the Puritans have this will result in internal conflicts between characters. Also the mixture of the law and religion interfere by making government decisions biased in favor towards the religion. In the Puritan community they show lots of resent and hatred towards Hester and Hawthorne makes the reader seem as if there is compassion. Not only does Hawthorne make the sin of Hester, but Hawthorne makes the whole town a sin they have to carry. Hawthorne uses the story of The Scarlet Letter to illustrate to the reader how close-minded the Puritans and their society are and how much corruption secretly plagued their religion which even the minister falls for. As Nathaniel Hawthorne want to show how difficult it was for Hester to be accepted back into the society and how the Puritans do things that are unnecessary and how the peoples opinion should not shift over to her child due to her acts.

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Hawthornes Critique of the Scarlet Letter. (2019, May 08). Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from

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