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The Depiction of Puritan Culture in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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“The Puritans were members of a religious reform movement known as Puritanism that arose within the Church of England in the late 16th century. They believed the Church of England was too similar to the Roman Catholic Church and should eliminate ceremonies and practices not rooted in the Bible”. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet letter, Hawthorne presented Puritan culture to be oppressive, strict, and hypocritical.

Oppressive, unjustly inflicting hardship and constraint especially on a minority. In the Scarlet letter, Hester Prynne is a minority, who was punished for committing an adulterous act. There are three oppressive forces presented in the book: religion, revenge, and guilt. Both Hester and Dimmesdale felt guilty. Hester was often conscious of the scarlet letter which led her to feel guilty especially when she went to Governors Bellingham’s mansion. Dimmesdale suffers more than Hester throughout the book due to his inability to confess until later. When Hester is released from prison, she goes to live in an abandoned cabin where she remains isolated from the rest of the world. Her daughter pearl was believed to be “a born outcast of the infantile world. An imp of evil, emblem and product of sin”. Hawthorne shows how oppressive the Puritan religion can be by showing how harsh and cruel the society was to Pearl and Hester. Hester was forced to wear the scarlet letter A on her chest every day as punishment to humiliate and label her as an example of what would happen if someone else committed a sin.

Strict, demanding total obedience and following rules or beliefs exactly. In puritanical culture there were strict rules that puritans believed should have been followed sternly. “Reverend Master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to heart that such a scandal should have come upon his congregation… ‘At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead’”. Hawthorne makes it clear that the Puritans strictly followed their rules and were coerced to believe that any other way was a sin, and there would be consequences if someone should disobey them. Since Hester dishonored their beliefs, she and her child had to live with the consequences.

Hypocritical, behaving in a way that suggests one has higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case. In the Scarlet Letter everyone blamed and judged Hester for committing adultery, when someone who everyone looked to as a saint was just a guilty as Hester. Reverend Dimmesdale, in all eyes Dimmesdale was “a true priest, a true religionist, with the reverential sentiment largely developed, and an order of mind that impelled itself powerfully along the track of creed”. A true priest would tell his congregation the truth and take responsibility for his actions. Instead reverend Dimmesdale finally confesses when he is consumed with guilt and cowardice. In addition, governor Bellingham is another hypocrite mentioned in the book. Governor Bellingham’s home was so luxurious that Hester was a little amazed, since he is the person that creates the rules and enforces simple and plainness and does the exact opposite.

As seen from the essay, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s the Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne helped shed some light of what it was like to live during the 16th and 17th century as puritan who sought to cleanse the Church of England of Roman Catholic practices. Whether it was the oppressiveness Hester had to live with every day, the strict rules puritans had to obey, or the hypocrisy throughout the book. Hawthorne depicted puritanism adroitly and accurate. 

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The Depiction Of Puritan Culture In The Scarlet Letter By Nathaniel Hawthorne. (2021, March 18). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from
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