Punishment in the Scarlet Letter

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Who should punish a sinner? Should it be religion, society, or the individual? In Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter the main character Hester Prynne is tormented by judgments passed on her by these three entities. Religion punishes her with the Scarlet Letter, society ostracizes her as punishment, and individually she was able to move on in life but still returned to her haunting past where she died. Who actually ha the authority to decide whether a person is a sinner? Once he is condemned, who has the authority to deny forgiveness?

Religion plays an immense role in Hawthorne's novel. Hester Prynne wore the letter to remind her of the sin she had committed against God. The sentence pronounced on Hester was not given directly by God, but those who gave it to her felt that they were acting on His behalf. Instead of taking Pearl away the people wanted her to wear the sign of adultery for the rest of her life, singling her out as a sinner forever. Hester's whole lifestyle was altered. She obeyed everyone and for seven years was cursed by the punishment they had given her. The people's beliefs strongly enforced the idea that Hester was unclean, and unworthy of forgiveness. The letter was to serve as a constant reminder of that fact.

Society was an influence on the scarlet letter as well. People of the town believed that Hester was a witch as well as sinner; many believed you could rarely have one without the other. The town ostracized her because no one in the area had ever dealt with a sin as horrible as adultery, naturally, to them Hester was an incarnation of evil. Some reacted with fear, others with disgust, and few were willing to treat her as an equal member of humanity. The people of the town felt the need to rid themselves of this vile creature who was bringing sin into their lives. Individually she was ostracized and criticized no matter where she went. As time went on she learned to live with her new distinctiveness, and made it work for her, this led...
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