The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his novel The Scarlet Letter, argues that the role of shame in society is not what keeps the citizens of that society pure and is possibly the worst type of punishment. Hawthorne supports his argument by demonstrating his perspective on shame through the rhetorical strategy of enthymeme given the major premise, minor premise, and conclusion. The author’s purpose is to persuade his audience that salvation can only be earned by being open about and true to what you are, which will lead to the feeling of no shame or guilt in life. The author evokes a cynical tone in order to persuade readers to accept his position that the role of shame in society acts as the worst punishment given to an individual of that society. Hawthorne demonstrates enthymeme most significantly through the major premise, which seems to be questioning Puritan society and the nature of civilization as it relates to the role of shame in society. The Puritans are shown to be civilized, as they have a system of rules and punishments. However, through Hawthorne’s exploration of the role of shame in society, the reader can conclude that Hawthorne does not believe Puritans are necessarily civilized. Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale scrutinize their own shame on a daily basis. In contrast, the Puritan counsel views this sin as a threat to the community, as it show-cases the role of shame in society and should be punished. In the Puritan elders’ eyes, shaming such behavior as Hester has committed purifies a community, as Hawthorne states, “The scene was not without a mixture of awe, such as must always invest the spectacle of guilt and shame in a fellow-creature, before society shall have grown corrupt enough to smile, instead of shuddering, at it.” (49). Hawthorne, however, demonstrates that Hester and Dimmesdale’s experience shows that a state of sinfulness can lead to self-growth, sympathy, and understanding of others, thus concluding that the...
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