Throughout the year’s society’s have developed their own standard way of thinking creating traditional norms. Norms are conventional and are expected to be fulfilled by the individuals in that society. If a norm were to be violated, it would bring severe consequences to those individuals. In The Scarlet Letter and The Minister’s Black Veil by Nathaniel Hawthorne both take place during the puritan timeframe in which the biggest norm violation would be the act of committing a sin causing those who violate these norms to suffer severe consequences.
In The Scarlet Letter Hester and Dimmesdale commit adultery and as a result, both suffer for their transgressions in different ways. Moreover, in The Ministers Black Veil Minister Hopper wears a black veil to accept his transgression while also trying to get other individuals to accept their own transgressions. Although both stories reveal the violated norm to be a sin, they both demonstrate how the puritan society establishes and punishes for the violations of these norms.
The Scarlet Letter exhibits Pearl is hurt by these violations allowing Dimmesdale to benefit from the violation and eventually triumphs while the Ministers Black Veil shows Hooper suffers from his violations but also benefits and eventually triumphs over his violation. I will first begin with The Scarlet Letter and then proceed with the Ministers Black Veil. Transgression in The Scarlett Letter is the act of committing adultery, which goes against the religious norms established by the puritan society.
The puritan society views adultery as a sinful and shameful act because they believe that in order for two individuals to have intimate relations with one another that they must first be married. Pre-marital sex is the norms violated and as a result, the puritan society punishes individuals who go against the traditional norm. As a result, Hester is punished for committing adultery and is forced to wear the letter A on her chest as a symbol of her adultery.
Puritans believe that “the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it” (481). This reveals the puritan view on how they believe the sinner should pay for their sins. In other words, Puritans believe that the sinner should not be aware of how much they will suffer for their sins but will become aware of the consequences until the very end. This allows the individuals who violate puritan norms to suffer but also position them in humiliation for having committed their sin.
Puritans like all society’s develop these norms in order to get individual to do what they believe to be right and, therefore, punish those who violate these norms. Hester’s daughter Pearl is hurt by her mother’s violation of pre-marital sex and as a result, is labeled as the devil’s child, but also grows up watching her mother being criticized and grows up without a father. For instance, the community constantly looks at both Hester and Pearl “scorn[ing] them in their hearts, and not unfrequently reviled them with their tongues” (502).
This is just one example of what Hester and Pearl have to go through as they tolerate the criticism of others, as a result of, Hester’s sin. As Pearl grows, she constantly has to watch people stare at her mother’s chest because of the letter A she is forced to wear causing Pearl to witness how society views her mother and punishes her. Although Pearl hasn’t done any sinful act because she is Hester’s daughter, she is compelled to pay for her mother’s sin. This causes individuals to view Pearl as the devil’s child, as a result, of being created through a sinful act.
Therefore, Hester is constantly being judged and observed as she grows older and is criticized for being the way she is simply because she was created through adultery. Pearl is also forced to suffer by having to grow up without her father because her father isn’t willing to recognize that he too committed adultery. Dimmesdale, Pearls father, however, benefits from the norm violation because besides Hester no one knows that he is the man that committed adultery with Hester.
Unlike Hester, Dimmesdale is able to live freely and wander around the puritan society allowing him to continue being respected as the minister without having to constantly experience the humiliation Hester and Pearl have to suffer for their violation of the puritan norms. Instead, Dimmesdale is able to “achieved a brilliant popularity in his sacred office” (528). In other words, Dimmesdale continues to grow and succeed as a minister because the community is unaware of his sinful sin he has committed.
Dimmesdale was also involved in seeking Hester punishment which provided him with popularity for having punished Hester. Therefore, the community continues to search for Dimmesdale and seek his guidance because they believe he is still a pure minister puritan example. Dimmesdale is eventually able to triumph because he admits to having committed adultery, which the narrator advocates triumph to be the ability to ignore what society will denounce as wrong but have the capability to accept one’s own sin without fear or regret.
Toward the end of the story, Dimmesdale resentment for not having confessed his sin grows which allows him to finally decided to confess his sin and recognize Pearl as his daughter allowing him to the ability to triumph. Once Dimmesdale recognized his sin, he “stood with a flush of triumph in his face, as one who, in the crisis of acutest pain, had won a victory” (589). This demonstrates Dimmesdale’s satisfaction of finally having the strength to admit to his sin comparing it to someone who was in pain but eventually was able to overcome that pain and recover.
This allows Dimmesdale to triumph over society by letting go of what he feared society would say about him, but also letting his conscience free as a minister. Dimmesdale ‘s overall triumph allows him the opportunity to die peacefully without any resentment as a priest while also guiding individuals to also accept their own sins. Like The Scarlet Letter, the Ministers Black Veil transgression is a sin in which the norm violation is covering up one’s entire face so no one can see it which is looked down upon the established puritan norms.
Covering up one’s entire face is criticized in the Puritan society because it suggests that one is ashamed, has committed a sin or is crazy. Puritans establish these norms as a way of acknowledging that they are pure but because Hopper wears a veil he is no longer seen as pure but is looked as someone who has gone against puritan norms. Hooper is a minister who decides to wear a black veil because he wants everyone to realize that they all have secret sins like himself, but instead, the community views the veil as a “horrible black veil …. portend[ing] nothing but evil” (413).
This suggests that by violating the norm and covering up one’s face with a black veil it suggests that the devil has influenced an individual to commit a sin. Puritans view the color black as death, which symbolizes the devil which is also why they view wearing a black veil as sinful and against puritan norms. Wearing a black veil would then symbolize sin and bring consequences to that individual in this case Hooper. Hooper himself suffers from his own violations of these puritan norms by becoming an outcast in society while also loses Elizabeth.
By choosing to wear the black veil Hooper pushes away the small number of individuals who he really cares about and enjoys being around. This causes his wife Elizabeth to leave his side “giving one long, shuddering gaze, that seemed almost to penetrate the mystery of the black veil” (415). This shows Elizabeth’s not understanding why Hooper chooses to wear the black veil and why he refuses to take it off and because Hooper could not reveal his reasons for doing so Elizabeth decided that she could no longer be with him.
Elizabeth was influenced by what society was saying about her husband and what they were going to say about her is she stayed with her husband. This led toward Elizabeth’s decision to leave Hooper. However, at the end of the story, we find out that Elizabeth has never stopped loving him and stays towards his side after his death. Hooper’s decision to wear the veil causes him to lose his wife Elizabeth till his death, but it also leads him towards his triumph. However, Hooper also benefits from the violations by becoming powerful.
Before Hooper decided to wear the black veil, he was a minister but did not receive the amount of attention he received for wearing the black veil. Individuals and the congregation at first did not like the black veil and questioned its meaning, however as Hooper continues to wear the black veil “he became a man of awful power, over souls that were in agony for sin” (416). This shows how the veil has allowed individuals to discover that they have their own secret sin and in a way persuade them to recognize it.
In a way, Hooper gains power because he has the ability to recognize his secret sin without being pressured or forced to do so by society. This allows Hopper to gain more power by choosing to wear the black veil out of his own will connecting him with individuals that feel some sort of attraction towards wanting to commit a sin and attracting those individuals who have also committed a sin. Hopper, therefore, benefits from his norm violation gaining powerful because he can connect with those who have sins of their own and also those who are in search or feel tempted to make their own secret sin and go against puritan norms.
Therefore, Hooper triumphs over his violations by being able to accept his secret sins publicly allowing him to die peacefully. The narrator suggests that in order for Hooper to triumph over his sins, he must be able to accept his sins publicly and must be willing to accept the criticism from society while also trying to get them to recognize their own secret sins. This allows Hooper to triumph because as he finishes his speech before he dies he falls “upon his pillow, a veiled corpse, with a faint smile lingering on the lips” (418).
This reveals Hooper’s satisfaction to see that he has accomplished his part in recognizing his secret sin, but also knows that he did what he could to try to get other individuals to recognize their own secret sin. Hooper’s smile symbolizes his overall attempt to do what a minister’s job is which is to guide his people towards the right path which to him meant getting individuals to accept their own secret sins. Hooper triumph leads him to his death in which he continues to wear the veil as a way of accepting his sin will always remain with him even after death.
Overall, puritan societies were very strict towards how they believed individuals should be punished when they violated puritan norms. Puritans believed that sins were temptations of the devil and is why they punished their people if they sinned. Their punishments puritans chose were harsh so individuals would suffer and feel shame in order to help them to no longer what to or feel tempted to commit another sin. However, if one chose to display their sin publicly like Hooper did you would also be criticized because one is willing to accept it without regret.
The consequences of violating these norms lead towards the suffering of oneself and the suffering of those you care about. In The Scarlett letter, Pearl was the most hurt by having to pay for her mother’s sin while Dimmesdale benefit from the violation allowing him to eventually achieve is a triumph. While The Ministers Black Veil Hooper suffers for his sin causing him to lose the love of his life Elizabeth which leads him towards his triumph. Eventually once one had accepted one’s sin one will be able to triumph over society’s criticism because one has learned and accepted the consequences for their sins.