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Paper 2

636 words - 3 pages

Setting in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a powerful symbol used to support the theme of the novel. The first setting is the city of Boston. In this setting, the lives of all are on display to the public. As the story opens, the townspeople here await Hester Prynne’s appearance from her months in jail. In the city, the people’s private lives and moral actions are the topic of much discussion and observation. The people are particularly interested at this time with the moral failure of Hester. The matrons of the town have a particular “boldness and rotundity of speech” regarding Hester’s appearance before them (38). However, Hester is not the only person under the constant observation and judgment of the Puritan population. In reference to the situation surrounding Hester’s love affair, the people say that Dimmesdale “takes it very grievously… that such a scandal should have come upon his congregation” (39). Others still complain that Dimmesdale and the town’s leadership are too merciful, and that “at the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead” (39). The constant observation by the townspeople force Hester, as well as others, to either accept or simply conform outwardly to the moral and civil standards of Puritanism.
The people of Boston are quick to recognize and reprimand those who break any part of their moral or civil law. Hawthorne uses this aspect of the story’s first primary setting to support the theme of his novel: a person should live what he says he believes. The Puritan townspeople are stringent in their outward execution of their moral laws; however, they conveniently overlook their own flaws of gossip and judgmentalism. The narrator refers to these people as “self-constituted judges” (39). Even a man in the crowd exclaims “hush, now, gossips!” (39). The cutting, rude comments...

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