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The Scarlet Letter - Puritan Society

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 In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, life is

centered around a rigid Puritan society in which one is

unable to divulge his or her innermost thoughts and secrets.

Every human being needs the opportunity to express how he or

she truly feels, otherwise the emotions are bottled up until

they become volatile. Unfortunately, Puritan society did not

permit this kind of expression, thus characters had to seek

alternate means to relieve their personal anguishes and

desires. Luckily, at least for the four main characters,

Hawthorne provides such a sanctuary in the form of the

mysterious forest. Hawthorne uses the forest to provide a

kind of "shelter" for members of society in need of a refuge

from daily Puritan life.

In the deep, dark portions of the forest, many of the

pivotal characters bring forth hidden thoughts and emotions.

The forest track leads away from the settlement out into the

wilderness where all signs of civilization vanish. This is

precisely the escape route from strict mandates of law and

religion, to a refuge where men, as well as women, can open

up and be themselves. It is here that Dimmesdale openly

acknowledges Hester and his undying love for her. It is also

here that Hester can do the same for Dimmesdale. Finally, it

is here that the two of them can openly engage in

conversation without being preoccupied with the constraints

that Puritan society places on them. To independent spirits

such as Hester Prynne's, the wilderness beckons her: "Throw

off the shackles of law and religion. What good have they

done you anyway? Look at you, a young and vibrant woman,

grown old before your time. And no wonder, hemmed in, as you

are, on every side by prohibitions. Why, you can hardly walk

without tripping over one commandment or another. Come to

me, and be masterless." (p.186)

Truly, Hester takes advantage of this, when Arthur

Dimmesdale appears. She openly talks with him about subjects

which would never be mentioned in the town. "What we did..."

she reminds him, "had a consecration of its own. We felt it

so! We said to each other!" This statement shocks Dimmesdale

and he tells Hester to hush. Had they been in the town and

overheard, the minister would be put to death. Realizing

that, in the open environment of the forest, he can express

his true emotions. Dimmesdale can say and do things he

otherwise might not be able to. The thought of Hester and

Dimmesdale having an intimate conversation in the confines

of the society in which they live is incomprehensible. Yet

here, in the forest, they can throw away all reluctance and

finally be themselves under the umbrella of security which


In Puritan society, self reliance is stressed among

many other things. However, self reliance is more than

stressed- it is assumed. It is assumed that you need only

yourself, and therefore should have no emotional necessity

for a "shoulder to cry on". Once again, for people in the

stations of life which Hester and Dimmesdale hold, it

would be unthinkable for them to comfort each other. Yet, in

the forest, these cares are tossed away. "Be thou strong for

me," Dimmesdale pleads. "Advise me what to do." (p. 187)

This is a cry for help from Dimmesdale, finally admitting he

cannot go through this ordeal by himself. With this plea

comes an interesting sort of role-reversal. When Dimmesdale

asks for help, he is no longer sustaining the belief that he

is above Hester. He is finally admitting that she is an

equal, or even that she is above him. This is possibly one

of the reasons that Puritans won't accept these emotional

displays- because the society is so socially oriented.

Hester, assuming a new position of power, gives a heartfelt,

moving speech. The eloquence



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