The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne. Menu. Introduction Background Discussion Starters. The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Scarlet Letter: Introduction. What happens when a private sin. becomes a public crime?. The Scarlet Letter: Introduction.
What happens when a private sin
becomes a public crime?
In Puritan New England a young woman named Hester Prynne gives birth to a baby girl.
Hester’s elderly husband has been missing for years.
Everyone knows he can’t be the father.
The town punishes Hester harshly for her adultery.
First, they imprison her.
Then, they condemn her to wear a scarlet letter A for the rest of her life.
The townspeople treat Hester as an outcast.
What her neighbors don’t know is the identity of the baby’s father.
Hester refuses to tell.
Her lover, whoever he is, seems to escape punishment.
Or does he?
Perhaps hidden suffering
is even worse than public shame.
Persecuted in England, the Puritans came to North America to form their own communities.
Life in the Colonies was harsh,
but it gave the Puritans the opportunity to form a society based on their religious ideals.
The setting of The Scarlet Letter is Boston in the 1640s.
Boston had recently been founded by about one thousand English Puritans, led by John Winthrop.
Puritans sought the freedom to live by their beliefs.
However, the Puritan leaders did not tolerate religious beliefs that differed from their own.
As for personal freedom…
every member of the community was held to strict standards of behavior.
In a Puritan community such as Hester’s, no aspect of life was truly private.
People kept a close watch on their neighbors.
Those considered sinners were publicly—and harshly—punished, as an example to others.
Hester goes to jail for an action that, in our society, usually would remain private.
Motivated by love and loyalty, Hester keeps a painful secret.