The Scarlet Letter Theme Analysis: Sin, Hypocrisy, and Corruption

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The Scarlet Letter Essay

Prompt: How does Hawthorne develop his themes of sin, hypocrisy, and corruption in the Puritan society through the occurrences of the scarlet letter, the scaffold, the Puritans, the prison, and the forest in the story?

In the world today, themes and symbolisms have played a major role in the development and presentation of past and present novels. These themes and symbolisms within a novel shape the overall story and often work hand in hand to convey its purpose and meaning. One such novel would include The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne; in this story, along with all his others, he has incorporated his three predominant, driving themes: sin, hypocrisy, and corruption. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses the occurrences of the scarlet letter, the scaffold, the Puritans, the prison, and the forest in the story to develop his themes of sin, hypocrisy, and corruption within the Puritan society. The theme of sin in the story is supported by the scarlet letter, the scaffold, and the forest. The scarlet letter, forced to be worn by Hester Prynne as a punishment for her act of adultery, is the physical representation of her sin. The scarlet A is always visible for the Puritans to see on Hester Prynne, and she is foremost ashamed of her sin, though she turns it into more of an ornament by beautifully embroidering the A in red and gold, thereby adorning a piece of her artistry of which she can take pride in, as opposed to a horrid punishment. For example, in chapter two, it states, “On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore…” Yet, its chronic presence as a reminder of her sin set her apart from the rest of society. In chapter five, it says, “In all her intercourse with society, however, there was nothing that made her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came in contact, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere …” The scaffold in the Puritan society is also a representation of sin; its very presence reveals the existence of sin within the society that the Puritans feel must be uncovered and dealt with. It serves as a physical representation of the revealing of sin, as it is upon the scaffold that those accused of sin must stand in shame and humiliation before the scorn of the entire community; it acts as the literal threshold upon which sin is placed for all to see and condemn and was where Hester Prynne, while wearing the scarlet A, was forced to stand while the magistrates determined the punishment for her sin. It states in chapter two, “Lastly…came back the rude market-place of the Puritan settlement, with all the townspeople assembled and levelling their stern regards at Hester Prynne…who stood on the scaffold of the pillory, an infant on her arm, and the letter A, in scarlet, fantastically embroidered with gold-thread, upon her bosom!” The forest also plays a role in the development of the theme of sin. It is within the forest that the Puritans believe the Black Man, or Satan, dwells and meets with his followers during the night; therefore, to the society, the forest is a place of sinfulness, where there is no law, order, or good. It is also noted in the story that were Hester to give into her sin, and were she to not have Pearl, it is to the forest with the Black Man’s followers that she would most probably go. It says in chapter eight, “‘Make my excuse to him, so please you!’ answered Hester, with a triumphant smile. ‘I must tarry at home, and keep watch over my little Pearl. Had they taken her from me, I would willingly have gone with thee into the forest, and signed...
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