Morality In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

2158 words - 9 pages

Morality in The Scarlet Letter

 
   "...pain is in itself an evil; and indeed, without exception, the only evil; or else the words good and evil have no meaning." (Chase 127) In the novel The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne presents a very clear view of his stand on morality, which he carefully cultivates through the course of the story. The moral, which is "Be true!" applies equally well to all of the characters in the novel. Though his view does seem to stand as true through the length of the story, it does not, unfortunately, transfer as smoothly to our lives today. In essence it is a hedonistic view to take, which requires a slight stretch as to his interpretation as to how evil, and important, an individual's pain is unto itself. By looking at each of the main characters in turn, it may be determined exactly what his view was on this subject, and how it may be applied to life in our society today.

 

Because his moral is more explicitly defined as "Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, some trait by which your worst may be inferred!" Hester Prynne is a sound example, for she did exactly that. She could not, and did not, hide her sin, and as a result wore it clearly at all times on her breast, hiding nothing. While at first it may seem as though she was punished more than any other character, because she was so physically punished, Hawthorne makes it clear that she was the most satisfied character in the novel, eventually finding peace with herself because she had no pressing secrets to gnaw at her conscience. Physically, however, the Puritan imposition of punishment was harsh, and unyielding. It brought her below many of the men and women of the town, and had the psychological effect of molding the letter into the defining characteristic of Hester's personality. She allowed all of her thoughts and actions to be affected by the letter, to the point where it became less a sign of her sin and more a sign of her redemption from that sin. However, either way, it defined her. This is implied in one passage which reads:

 

"...owing to a particular effect of this convex mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance. In truth, she seemed absolutely hidden behind it."

 

As a result of this eclipse of her former personality, Hester became everything the Puritans wanted physically. She was a great Samaritan in the community, and was utterly humble and honest. When she showed the worst in her at all times, she had nothing to hide from the people who she met, and their opinions of her could only raise. The irony in the fact that she became a model citizen in the eyes of the Puritans only points to Hawthorne's distaste for the Puritan way of life, for Hester manifested a perfect Janus; a two faced entity of whom no one knew the true nature. Physically, the Puritans loved her behavior,...

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