The Scarlet Letter is a romantic novel that was written in 1850 by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The story commences in Boston in the 17th century with Prynne’s condemnation and humiliation by the Puritan community for adultery. She is forcefully marched through the market place carrying her baby in her arms plus a scarlet letter “A” on her breast. A man within the crowd mentions to an old onlooker that Prynne is being reprimanded for committing adultery. Roger Chillingworth, Prynne's husband, seemed to have been lost at sea on his way to Boston. While Prynne waits for him, she falls in love with Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, and their extra marital affair leads to the birth of their daughter Pearl. When asked to reveal her lover’s identity, she declines to talk, and consequently, the townspeople compel her to wear the scarlet letter on her bosom all the time as punishment for her secrecy and sin. This paper analyzes the themes of identity and conformity in the novel.
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The themes of conformity and identity are evident throughout the novel. The Puritan community valued their system of punishing and judging people who violate their laws. Therefore, in conforming to their valued laws, the Puritans punished Prynne and Dimmesdale by forcing them to wear a scarlet letter, as a reminder of their sexual sin. The scarlet letter here is meant to give them physical identity as adulterers and violators of the laws of the land. Prynne is punished publicly by wearing a scarlet letter, “A”, showing everyone that she is an adulteress, and being marched through the city streets. Despite the public humiliation, Prynne courageously accepts her punishment and walks with her head held up high. Prynne’s scarlet letter is a clothing piece with the letter “A” that is beautifully embroidered and shining in her bosom. Even though the letter was originally meant to mark Prynne as an adulterer, with time, it’s meaning changes to “Able”. Prynne sewed garments for the less fortunate in the society and gave out all of her income to them. Her hard work and generosity became so significant that instead of her scarlet letter, people saw her as a person of high status and importance. On the other hand, Dimmesdale decided to keep his act a secret from the public and condemned himself internally, leading to physical and mental suffering. Dimmesdale’s scarlet letter identified him as a coward who cannot confess his sins in public.
To conclude, “The Scarlet Letter” is a very interesting novel with numerous moral lessons to the reader. Though Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale are fictional characters, what happens in their lives in the novel are comparable to what happens in relationships in everyday life. Through the two characters, we learn that nobody is free from sin. How we handle the effects of our sins, including the punishments, greatly determines how our future lives will be. While some decide to punish themselves in secret, others are condemned and humiliated publicly. Both ways have their pros and cons, but the most important thing is to have the courage to confess our sins in order to be free to move on with our lives.
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