The Benefits of Sin Revealed in The Scarlet Letter
According to Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter, each of us is born with "original sin" we have inherited from the misdeeds of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. As Eve bit hungrily into the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, starving for wisdom, little did she know that the entire human race would thereafter be tainted by her "sin." Hawthorne and many others believe that ever since, human beings have been inclined to evil, more likely to disobey than to act in a godly manner. This is a faithless, cynical view of humanity, but one perhaps justified by the actions of Hester Prynne and the Reverend Dimmesdale. Sin seems to be an inevitable factor in their lives; though they are good people, their sin boils up and nearly destroys them. Do they make a conscious choice to sin? Or does their sin simply take control, as it is bound to do in all human beings? Perhaps this leads to a greater question of fate and free will, but in the end, the one thing they can really change in their lives is the way they deal with sin, how they attempt to atone for it - and whether they view the affair they had as sinful in the first place.
Puritan society in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was a system based on religion. The Bible and the law were intertwined and could not be separated, not even in the minds of the people. Therefore it was difficult to argue that there were any laws at all that were worth having, if they were not spelled out explicitly in the Bible. Hester had committed adultery and given birth to a bastard child, and there it was, in the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not commit adultery. And so she was punished. The Puritans nodded and were satisfied, comfortable in the knowledge that this was clear-cut sin. They did not question the laws they lived by or how they defined sin, because it was the basis of their religion and thus the basis of their lives. Questioning would have thrown their world into turmoil. They liked simple, written laws. Laws of the heart were unimportant; after all, how could one live by laws that were not even verbalized or written in any way? Puritan society was so rigid, so strict, that other rules were not even considered. Hester's sin comes from her refusal to ignore that other set of rules: the rules of her soul. I read about Hester's predicament and think, "She was following her heart. How is being true to herself a sin?" But in the 17th century in Puritan America, the individual did not create rules. Society did. Granted, the structure and laws of society are needed to some extent in order to prevent chaos. But some matters are not the business of government. Hester's sin should have been private, if it had been a sin at all in her eyes. She could not escape societal laws, though, and her sin darkened in her eyes and made her ashamed.
It is no wonder that Hester is so confused by her sin and its implications, because her guilt is...