Puritan Society in The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is set in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1640. It is during that time Puritans left the Old World to settle in the new colony with the mission of “purifying” the Church of England because they believed that all mankind was depraved and sinful because of Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden.

The novel starts with the passage, which gives the reader the feeling of darkness as it describes how gloomy Puritans are and how they think prison is a “practical necessity”.

A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and grey steeple-crowned hats, inter-mixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak and studded with iron spikes. The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison. (Hawthorne, 1)

Hawthorne’s view of Puritan society can be seen in Chapter 7:
On the wall hung a row of portraits, representing the forefathers of the Bellingham lineage, some with armor on their breasts, and others with stately ruffs and robes of peace. All were characterized by the sternness and severity which old portraits so invariably put on, as if they were the ghosts, rather than the pictures, of departed worthies, and were gazing with harsh and intolerant criticism at the pursuits and enjoyments of living men. (Hawthorne, 83)

As well as in Chapter 21, where he satirically writes about the only holiday Puritans’ have:
Into this festal season of the year — as it already was, and continued to be during the greater part of two centuries — the Puritans compressed whatever mirth and public joy they deemed allowable to human infirmity; thereby so far dispelling the customary cloud, that, for the space of a single holiday, they appeared scarcely more grave than most other communities at a period of general affliction. (Hawthorne, 188)

Non-Puritan participants are described in the most joyful way. Their dress, their behavior, and even the happiness on their faces are very un-Puritan-like. This shows that being happy in Puritan society means to be reproached and judged since this society has a constricted outlook; it is dull, unforgiving, and narrow-minded.

When Hester is released from prison, the town police official appears “like a black shadow…, the grim and gristly presence of the town-beadle” (Hawthorne, 40). He represents the “whole dismal severity of the Puritanical code of law,” (Hawthorne, 40) which fused religion with law. Hester on the other hand is described as a woman “marked with natural dignity and force of character.” (Hawthorne, 40) These are the strengths, which the narrator admires and respects, that Puritan society suppresses. The Puritans are shown as shallow hypocrites whose opinion of Hester and Pearl improves only when they become more of an asset to the community when Hester becomes a seamstress and Pearl inherits a fortune from Chillingworth. (https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-scarlet-letter/themes/puritanism)


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Puritan Society in The Scarlet Letter. (2020, Sep 21). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/puritan-society-in-the-scarlet-letter/



How did the Puritan society views Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter?
The Puritan society viewed Hester Prynne as a sinner and an outcast due to her adultery and the resulting birth of her illegitimate child. She was forced to wear a scarlet letter A on her chest as a symbol of her shame and was ostracized from the community.
How does The Scarlet Letter criticize Puritan society?
The Scarlet Letter criticizes Puritan society by showing the hypocrisy of the Puritans. The Puritans are supposed to be religious people, but they are judgmental and hypocritical.
What does Hawthorne say about Puritan society?
Hawthorne says that Puritan society is hypocritical because it claims to be God-fearing but is actually judgmental and intolerant.
What is the Puritans view of society?
He uses alliteration and anaphora.
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