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Essay about Theme Of Adultery In The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne chose such a controversial topic as adultery for The Scarlet Letter, his nineteenth century novel of “seventeenth century sexual repression and hypocrisy”, demonstrates a delicate yet changing climate with regard to infidelity. Historically, carrying on an adulterous affair back in such an era of Puritanism and traditional values was not taken lightly; in fact, by today’s standards, such horrific treatment for what is now considered an everyday occurrence was harsher than murders suffer by current standards.

Those who acted out of the vows of matrimony centuries ago, as Hester Prynne did in The Scarlet Letter, paid a high price for their momentary pleasures of the flesh. In those days, the Puritans saw to it that such a crime was “punishable by death “behavior so unbecoming of a religious devotee deserved no less. However, Prynne escaped such a fate when she did the unthinkable: she chose to sleep with a “self-righteous” priest who ultimately fathered her child. After her adulterous affair was discovered, Prynne’s punishment of wearing a red A on her bodice acted as a vivid reminder to all who saw her.

Yet human beings were still human beings, even back then — it is just that extramarital affairs were not looked upon as an acceptable activity. While they are not exactly condoned within today’s society, there has been a remarkable change in attitude toward the punishment of such sexual indiscretions compared to those of Hawthorne’s time period. To begin with, Sin vs. Judgement in this book is interpreted differently than how we view adultery in our modern society.

Hawthorne’s novel consistently calls into question the notion of sin and what is necessary for redemption. For each kind of sin, we wonder if the punishment fits the crime and what must be done, if anything, to redeem the sinner in the eyes of society as well as in the eyes of the sinner himself or herself. In the book, She married Chillingworth without quite understanding the commitment she made, and then she had to live without him while he was abroad, then fell in love with Dimmesdale–perhaps discovering the feeling for the first time. If thou feelest it to be for thy soul’s peace, and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellowsinner and fellow-sufferer! ” (3. 26) Is the sin, then, committing adultery with Dimmesdale and breaking her vow and commitment, or is the sin first marrying Chillingworth without thinking it through? And what is Chillingworth’s sin? Essentially abandoning his wife for so long upon their marriage, or failing to forgive her once he knew of the crime?

Is Dimmesdale’s sin his adultery or his hypocritical failure to change his sermon themes after the fact? Or are all of these things sins of different degrees? We also should remember that what the Puritans thought of as sin was different from what went for sin in Hawthorne’s time, both being different from what many Christians think of as sin today. This should not teach us moral relativism, but it should encourage us to be wary of judging others. Secondly, Public guilt vs. private guilt plays an important role when contrasting the two different ways we perceive the book and what happens in reality.

What Hawthorne sets out to portray, then, is how the private thoughts, the private torture and guilt and emotional destruction of the people involved in the affair, are more than enough punishment for the crime. According to the legal statutes at the time and the prevailing sentiment of keeping in accordance with a strict interpretation of the Bible, adultery was a capital sin that required the execution of both adulterer and adulteress–or at the very least, severe public corporal punishment. Indeed, even if the husband wanted to keep his wife alive after she committed adultery, the law insisted that she would have to die for it.

It is in this environment that Hester commits adultery with Dimmesdale, but we come to see that the public shaming cannot begin to account for all the complexities of the illicit relationship–or the context of it. What Hawthorne sets out to portray, then, is how the private thoughts, the private torture and guilt and emotional destruction of the people involved in the affair, are more than enough punishment for the crime. “On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an 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 had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony. ” (2. 10) Hester’s punishment for adultery, being forced to wear a scarlet letter as a mark of shame upon her breast for life, may seem harsh and unusual. But the punishment is extraordinarily lenient in comparison to the Biblical and legal punishments that were available at the time.

A more charitable reading of the Bible would come later in reflections on the New Testament interpretation of adultery law, namely, that the public need not step in to punish a crime when we ourselves have our own sins to be judged. Each person suffers enough already for his or her own sins. More so in our society, it is so taboo, when you consider the historical context of marriage, isn’t being shocked by adultery a bit of an overreaction? Of course, no one can deny that when you lie and do something behind another person’s back, you are doing something wrong.

You’re breaking an agreement, and that lacks integrity. Thirdly, the town vs. he woods, In the town, Hester usually is confronted with the legal and moral consequences of her crime. Governor Bellingham comes to take her child away, Chillingworth reminds her of her deed, and she faces Dimmesdale in the context of sinner (his reputation remains untarnished despite his role in the affair). But whenever Hester leaves the town and enters the woods, she is free to rediscover herself. The woods also traditionally expresses darkness. In the darkness of night, Hester is free to meet Dimmesdale, to confess her misgivings, and to live apart from the torment and burdens of the guilt enforced by the community.

Dimmesdale is also free at night to expose his guilt on the scaffold and reconcile with Hester. “She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness; as vast, as intricate and shadowy, as the untamed forest” (18. 2). In other words, Hester is cast out of the rules and order of the town, forced to live in a metaphorical forest: a wilderness of shadowy right and wrong. In this modern era, People justify their affairs by saying “it’s for the good of the marriage,” or “it will make our marriage stronger. ” In other words, I may be hurting my spouse now, but in the long run, we’ll both be happier.

However, back in the puritan era, adultery was seen as social suicide. Puritanism, in its rigidity and demand for conformity punishes not merely the crime, but the will and spirit of the transgressor as it reclaims this member of its society by means of the transgressor’s own consent to “complementarity. ” Such a culture differs greatly from our society that holds with the redemptive power of people and the strength of the making of one’s own person. Fourthly, memories vs. the present, 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. “The magistrates are God-fearing gentlemen, but merciful overmuch, —that is a truth,” added a third autumnal matron. “At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead. Madame Hester would have winced at that, I warrant me. But she,—the naughty baggage,—little will she care what they put upon the bodice of her gown! Why, look you, she may cover it with a brooch, or such like heathenish adornment, and so walk the streets as brave as ever! ” (2. )

Indeed, Hester reaches peace with her affair and in that peace comes to see the town as insufficiently forgiving in its thoughts and attitudes. Pearl is enough of a reminder of the wild choices in her past, and as Pearl grows up, Hester continues to live in the present rather than in the past. Reverend Dimmesdale, meanwhile, is haunted in the present by sins past and seems to reflect the town’s tendency to punish long after the offense. In suppressing his own confession, Dimmesdale remains focused on coming to terms with a sinful past instead of looking squarely at the problems of the present.

On the other hand, millions around the world commit adultery or fornication with no remorse. Even government officials, religious leaders, top businessmen, sports figures and entertainment icons acknowledge their adulterous lifestyles. Will God judge our nations for such immorality? Lastly, punishment vs. forgiveness, is one of the most compelling themes of the novel and is embodied by Chillingworth, who seems like the authority of moral judgment in the story, since Dimmesdale–the minister and the supposed purveyor of righteousness–is himself tainted as a party to the crime. Chillingworth is surprisingly forgiving of Hester’s crime.

We sense that he understands why she would forsake him. After all, he is deformed, he is older, he has not been nearby, while she is beautiful and passionate. Indeed, we get the feeling that Chillingworth’s self-loathing allows him to forgive Hester, but this attribute also increases the relentlessness and rage with which he goes after Dimmesdale. “I do forgive you, Hester,” replied the minister, at length, with a deep utterance out of an abyss of sadness, but no anger. “I freely forgive you now. May God forgive us both! ” (17. 21) Strangely enough, today’s ideals of punishment for adultery, can compare from how they were treated back then.

Similarly, in a court case, a woman was charged for adultery against cheating on her husband. In the case was stated, “Condonation is only conditional forgiveness, and condoned adultery and cruelty may be revived by misconduct, which falls short of adultery. A husband was guilty of adultery and cruelty, which were condoned by his wife. He afterwards made improper overtures to, and attempted to take liberties with, a female servant in his house. Held, that the husband’s misconduct revived his condoned adultery, and that the wife was entitled to a decree for dissolution of the marriage.

This was a wife’s petition for a dissolution of marriage on the ground of her husband’s adultery and cruelty, and was tried before the President of the Division without a jury. The respondent alleged that the adultery and cruelty had been condoned. The petitioner, in giving her evidence, admitted the condonation, but there was evidence that the respondent had afterwards attempted to take liberties with a female servant, whose chastity he solicited” In other words, ideas of the inherently flawed human can be compared to the importance of the human heart, and why it cannot be underestimated in The Scarlet Letter.

Its function is to connect the individual to the world of nature and to common humanity. Hawthorne suggests that by fully accepting and honoring the human heart, man can find a balance between nature and society. “When man can live an existence which will allow nature and society to be in concord rather than conflict”.

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