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Individualism In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

1065 words - 4 pages

Individualism in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter
Often in society people are criticized, punished and despised for their individual choices and flaws. In the novel, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author uses Hester Prynne to symbolize that those who challenge social conformities can benefit society as a whole. Though she has been banished for committing adultery, she sees that the community needs her. Through her generous accomplishments the community realizes she is a person who, regardless of her sin, can affect the community in a positive way.

The new Puritan society wanted to punish Hester Prynne horribly so that she would set an example of the consequences the others would receive if they committed a sin.. At first the Puritans took a delight in Hester Prynne's punishment, having thought they cleansed the town, and therefore only leaving a "pure" society. They forced Hester Prynne to stand in front of the town for hours as the crowd tried to break her down with criticism and shaming words. After her release, "the scene was not without a mixture of awe, such as much always invest the spectacle of guilt and shame of a fellow creature" (63)... They thought that if they treated her horribly then no one would ever even think of breaking the law again. Their fear of sin and wickedness drove them in their quest to do what they felt was right. The society had to protect itself from its own judgment. Their fault was that they only saw Hester for the crime she had committed but not as the woman she was. When the community banished Hester Prynne they succeeded in upholding their morality but lost an individual. The community is nothing more than a collection of individuals. Although they did not see this point then perhaps they would in time. Since everyone within the community was subject to scrutiny, when someone was caught being bad, everyone could be glad it was not he or she. This closed mindedness could only see hatred for Hester Prynne and the need to identify her with the letter "A". This way everyone would look at her rather than one another.

The society was still not satisfied with this punishment and chose to pass their negativity on to their offspring. "Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast…as the figure, the body, the reality of sin" (83). The mothers of the children in the community would point her out and tell their children not to be like her. They would use her as an example of the consequences of being an individual and going against society's rules. "Children too young to comprehend wherefore this women so be shut out from the sphere of human charities… coming forth along the pathway that lead town ward; and, discerning the scarlet letter on her breast, would scamper off with a strange, contagious fear" (85). The fact that the community went to so much trouble to never let her forget what she had done, and the fact that she accepts...

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