Essay Example on The Scarlet Letter Adultery and Punishment of Hester Prynne by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The punishments in The Scarlet Letter such as the public humiliation of Hester Prynne and the execution of Miss Hibbins were true to how Puritans realistically punished those who committed crimes in their society. There were many ideals in Puritan society that set standards for how people of the Puritan religion should live their lives. If an action goes against an ideal it is deemed as a crime. Between disobeying the rules of the Sabbath committing adultery and even witchcraft punishments were given accordingly. Depending on the severity of the action in the eyes of powerful figures, in the society punishments ranged merely from public humiliation to even death. Many of the crimes seem unreasonable as numerous laws in present-day are completely different. Although the laws may seem unreasonable it is what Puritans and many others believed in the sixteenth century as seen in the Two Elizabethan Puritan Diaries. The most striking feature of the Puritan way of life revealed in the diaries is the overwhelming predominance of the ethical element. It was the good rather than the beautiful or the true which occupied the Puritan mind Knappen. This statement was exemplified in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter when Hester Prynne was known to have committed adultery. Immediately, Hester was shunned and forced into public humiliation, a punishment that held true to traditional Puritan punishment. As Hester transforms the meaning of the A from adultery to able by helping the poor she proves that her soul is good.

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The town recognizes the good of her heart and changes their perspective. Before the town focused on the wrongful sin as opposed to the truth and beauty of the love that Dimmesdale and Hester shared. All the hateful opinions seemed to dissipate with time and Hester was later appreciated. A true case of public humiliation was forced upon a Boston seafaring man who profaned the Sabbath. Captain Kemble publicly kissed his wife when he returned home on a Sunday after being at sea for three years sentencing him to several hours of public humiliation in the stocks Cox.

 Something as small as a missing church and showing affection to a loved one after not seeing him or her for three years earned hours of public humiliation. One of the most prominent crimes in the sixteenth century was witchcraft. Countless women like Miss Hibbins were accused of witchcraft often leading to execution. This witchcraft was especially unacceptable in the Puritan religion due to the very high regards for God. From Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God the minister scolds the Puritans for not being worthy of God's grace. The minister condemned the churchgoers to hell just for action so small as forgetting to pray. Imagine the minister's reaction to the witchcraft that rejected God and promoted black magic. Whether the death be hanging or even burning at the stake the executions were often gruesome. Miss Hibbins often made disturbing comments to many people and also invited them to witch parties in the forest. It was inevitable that she get caught and hung for the witchcraft.


Miss Hibbins was in fact a real person who committed the same crime. Although thousands died from this same crime the execution of Anne Hibbins was one of the historically documented deaths. Whether Miss Hibbins was a witch or not seems to be debatable even in the opinion of Nathaniel Hawthorne who included her into the plot. The myriad of deaths resulting from the witch trials may seem excessive or even impossible. Historians have studied the verdicts and punishments of those accused which revealed a forgery of Lamothe Largons who described imaginative 14th-century witch trials with high death rates. It was eventually revealed that 40 000 to 50 000 deaths were the accurate rate as opposed to the millions that were once thought were killed. Witchcraft The 40 000 deaths is more reasonable than the millions, but it is unfortunate to think that many of the lives taken were innocent and wrongfully accused. Though punishment for adultery and witchcraft appears to seem unreasonable in modern day it was extremely serious in the eyes of most Puritans. Adultery is still a sin in most religions but they are not publicly humiliated. It is quite possible in some areas of the world where the sins are still deemed as severe in which the sinners are harshly punished. The likelihood of the sinner being punished as harshly as the Puritans in the 1600s is slim.

Hester Prynne may have been punished but her conversion was remarkable to not only the community that she lived in but also to the readers of the Scarlet Letter. Miss Hibbins, on the other hand, did not come back from her punishment to have a conversion because the punishment was execution. Whether or not Miss Hibbins would have had a conversion if she had a less severe punishment is unknown. This decision and many others about the crimes not only in the Scarlet Letter but also in the 1600s is left up to the imagination of the reader. Work Cite Cox James A Colonial Crimes and Punishments Colonial Crimes and Punishments The Colonial Williamsburg Official History Citizenship Site 2003. Web 2 Dec 2017 www history org Knappen M M et al The Puritan Character as Seen in the Diaries Two Elizabethan Puritan Diaries vol 2 American Society of Church History 1933 pp 2 4 E Print 22 Nov 2017. www HathiTrust org Witchcraft Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology 27 Nov 2017 Encyclopedia com Bibliography Adams Brooks The Witchcraft Emancipation of Massachusetts the Dream and the Reality Gale Ecco Making Of Mode 2010 E Print 22 Nov 2017. onlinebooks library upenn edu Lauria Lisa M The Plymouth Colony Archive Project Sexual Misconduct in Plymouth Colony 14 Dec 2007 Web 22 Nov 2017 www histarch illinois edu.

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