The Scarlet Letter: the Harsh Puritan Society

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The Scarlet Letter: The Harsh Puritan Society

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, life is centered around a rigid, Puritanistic-structured society in which one is unable to divulge his or her innermost thoughts and secrets. Every human being needs the opportunity to express how they truly feel, or the emotion is bottled up until it becomes volatile. Unfortunately, Puritan society did not permit this expression, so characters had to seek alternate means in order to relieve themselves. Luckily, at least for the four main characters, Hawthorne provides such a sanctuary in the form of the mysterious forest. Hawthorne uses the forest to provide a shelter for members of society in need of a refuge from daily life.

In the deep, dark portions of the forest, many of the pivotal characters bring forth hidden thoughts and emotions. The forest track leads away from the settlement out into the wilderness where all signs of civilization vanish. This is precisely the escape route, from strict mandates of law and religion, to a refuge where men, as well as women, can open up, and be themselves. It is here that Dimmesdale can openly acknowledge Hester and his undying love for her. It is here that Hester can do the same for Dimmesdale. It is here that the two of them can openly engage in conversation, without being preoccupied with the constraints that Puritan society places on them. The forest itself, is free. Nobody watches in the woods to report misbehavior, so it is here where people do as they wish. To independent spirits like Hester Prynne's, the wilderness beckons her: "Throw off the shackles of law and religion. What good have they done you anyway? Look at you, a young and vibrant woman, grown old before you time. And no wonder, hemmed in, as you are, on every side by prohibitions. Why, you can hardly walk without tripping over one commandment or another. Come to me, and be masterless." Truly, Hester takes advantage of this, when Arthur Dimmesdale appears....
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