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What Are The "Crimes" Committed In "The Scarlet Letter" By Nathaniel Hawthorne And How Are They Punished? In Your Opinion, How "Just" Are These Punishments?

1051 words - 4 pages

The expression “crime does not pay” lies at the heart of much literature and is present in many films as well as in everyday life. True to the expression, in most novels, criminals are eventually punished, even for crimes that are nowadays not considered wrong. However they do not always receive a fair punishment. I believe this is to make the story more attention-grabbing and to arouse the reader’s sympathy and pity for the criminal when he is too severely punished and vice versa. The reader feels more emotionally drawn to the character. In texts I have studied this year this unjustness is often apparent, especially in “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.This novel tells the tale of a recently married young woman who is sent to America to start a new life there. Her husband, Roger Chillingworth, is soon to follow her but two years later there is still no news of him. To the shame of the strictly Puritan community, Hester then bears an illegitimate child, named Pearl. As means of punishment she is forced to wear a letter “a” signifying “adulteress” on her breast for the rest of her life. She also has to stand on the village scaffold for three hours to be mocked. Here Hester notices her husband watching her. However he conceals his identity, presumably to hide his shame. He then visits her in her brief stay in prison, under pretext that he is a doctor. Roger demands to know the name of Pearl’s father but Hester refuses to tell him. This renders him furious and he threatens to kill this man if she tells a soul about their meeting. He then starts his obsessive search of Pearl’s father.Hester is “rejected from society” and therefore lives with Pearl (“in giving her existence, a great law had been broken”) on the edge of the village. She has no friends or family and is feared by many. Children regularly throw stones at her and the ministers use her as an example of the “bad sheep” of their society. But for Hester the worst is not the solitude but the guilt and shame she feels everyday for the act she has committed. Hester believes “no fellow-mortal was guilty like herself.” She feels she disappointed not only herself but also her husband and the rest of the Puritan society. The scarlet letter and the puritans’ reaction against is a constant reminder of her failure.Years later, the Puritan’s are ready to discuss whether they should let Hester take the scarlet letter off her breast. They feel she has done much good to the community: regularly feeding the poor and caring for the sick. Many have already forgotten the true significance of the letter “a” and think it stands for “able.” However when Hester hears of this she immediately tells them she will always carry the symbol on her breast. She feels it is part of her and she can neither forget the crime she committed nor be forgiven for it.Without realizing it Pearl...

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