The Individual vs. Society in the Scarlet Letter
The society we live in today grants us a variety of freedoms. No one tells us how to think or what to believe in. We decide what clothes to wear, what to do on Sundays and our religion – with no law to persuade us. These permissive decisions would not be looked highly upon in stern Puritan Society. There is no sense of individualism in 1600s Salem because laws envelop every bit of human society. With all these severe rules in place, there are bound to be rebellious actions. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne addresses the theme of an individual’s struggle against society by implementing three symbols: the wild roses, the scarlet letter and Pearl.
In the beginning of the novel, Hawthorne describes a wild and saintly rose-bush next to the prison. This rose-bush, by some odd occurrence, has stood the test of time and all of man’s activities. Even with all of society’s hideous constructions, such as the ugly and rusty prison door, it is still blooming and well. “But on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in…” (Hawthorne 35). A reference to Anne Hutchinson is another reason why this rose bush is a symbol of an individual’s struggle against society. Hawthorne recognizes Anne as one of the possible reasons why the rose-bush sprang up next to the prison. “…or whether, as there is far authority for believing, it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson as she entered the prison-door, we shall not take upon us to determine” (Hawthorne 36). Hawthorne bestows Hutchinson because she was a true individual who, despite angering Puritan leaders, fought for her own beliefs.
One of the consequences of Hester and Dimmesdale’s sin is the scarlet letter. Its lone purpose is to forever remind Hester and everyone else about her iniquity. The letter marks Hester as an exile in front of society, almost every word, action, and gesture society expresses to Hester implies that she is an outcast. The “A” on her bosom has made Hester a representation of woman’s frailty and sinful passion. It incites the Puritan Society to shun Hester and constantly insult her. Even when she sacrifices her time to be charitable towards the poor, they revile her and the ladies of Boston also treat Hester with hostility. Hawthorne explains the malicious situation towards Hester in this quotation,
The poor, as we have already said, whom she sought out to be the objects of her bounty, often reviled the hand that was stretched forth to succour them. Dames of elevated rank, likewise …were accustomed to distil drops of bitterness into her heart, sometimes through that alchemy of quiet malice, by which women can concoct a subtle poison from ordinary trifles, and sometimes, also, by a coarser expression, that fell upon the sufferer's...