The Scarlet Letter: Did Hawthorne Do a Good Job Representing Puritan Life?

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The Scarlet Letter: Fact or Fiction?
Charity Ryan

The Scarlet Letter is the book Nathaniel Hawthorne is perhaps most famous for. Set in Puritan New England, it is a story of the love between a preacher (Arthur Dimmesdale) and a young woman (Hester Prynne) whose husband is presumed dead. When their encounter produces a child, Hester is forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” (representing “Adultery”) upon her bosom for the rest of her life, as she refuses to give the identity of the child’s father. She then becomes somewhat of a hermit, trying her hardest to avoid human contact. Hawthorne was known to feel guilty about the intolerance of his Puritan ancestors. After all, one of them was a judge at the infamous Salem Witch trials. His mother became withdrawn from the world after the death of his father, and Hawthorn also withdrew himself from society after graduating college. This family history of isolation might have been Hawthorne’s inspiration for the isolation of Hester Prynne in his novel. When Hester’s “dead” husband pops up onto the scene, he is obviously furious at Hester for her infidelity and vows to extract revenge on her baby’s father. This eventually leads to Dimmesdale’s death and the end of the novel. The Scarlet Letter is obviously a fictitious account of the doomed love between Hester and Arthur, but is it perhaps realistic fiction? Did Hawthorne stray from a realistic representation of Puritan lifestyle, or is his book an accurate account of the “Puritan Way?” The puritans were dedicated to perfection. They wanted to create a society that pleased God in every way. The bible was the model that they strictly adhered to when creating their community. Mistakes were not tolerated! There were strict punishments and fines for disobeying the laws. People were even fined for smoking at the wrong time! Judging by this I think Hawthorne might have taken it a little easy on Mrs. Prynne. Though having the scarlet letter attached to her at...
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