Irony in “The Scarlet Letter”

The novel takes place in June 1640. Hester Prynne is a young, “widowed” mother who resides in the Puritan settlement of Boston, Massachusetts. The author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1804. Hawthorne quickly brings attention to the harsh actions of the townspeople towards Prynne and her vivid Scarlet Letter embroidered into her dress. Hawthorne presents the society as “strict and severe” with Christian-like rules and principles to comply with. It was evidently shown throughout the 17th century that men were the head of the household and made all of the important decisions, while the women were present to take care of the children and tend to endless amounts of housework. The family structure kept men, women, and children “In line with God”.

Prynne gets introduced in the story as a disgrace because she ultimately committed adultery. Everyone is against her and anything that corresponds with her. The women were particularly interested in the punishment that Prynne was about to receive. Women, in general, were particularly shunned the most for going against the strict family structure. On page 8, there are many women who continuously insult Prynne and advise that her punishment should be heavily severe and painful.

Throughout the chapters, we discover that Prynne has a child by the name of Pearl. Pearl Prynne causes havoc throughout the city of Boston and is repeatedly referred to as an elf because of her wild and rambunctious behavior and actions throughout the beginning chapters. Pearl is an extremely significant asset to the text because she was the outcome of her mother’s sin which was committed by an act of passion. Pearl’s presence throughout the text is also a physical and mental reminder to her mother of what she had done wrong, although it was not out of spite, revenge, or even yearning for any random intimate partner.

Many people believe that Hawthorne’s novel could have been seen as strict criticism of Puritan beliefs and morals. Hawthorne uses the Scarlet Letter “A” to criticize the Puritan world and to mentally interrogate whether or not their beliefs and punishments were cruel and unruly or fair and modest. Prynne is a phenomenal seamstress and she created the Scarlet Letter “A” that the Puritans intended to be symbolic of shame towards Prynne but she takes that “shame” and wears it proudly. “On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold-thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it … was of splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony”. The quote assists the reader to understand what great beauty the “A” held but it was ultimately a symbol of ignominy.

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