The Scarlet Letter

Community in The Scarlet Letter and Beloved College

The Scarlet Letter and Beloved, despite their vastly different settings, both emphasize the effect of community on an individual. In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, set in Boston in 1642, the rigidly Puritan society criminalizes a young woman named Hester Prynne for cheating on her cruel husband with a lover she will not name. In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, set in 1873 Cincinnati, Ohio, the community similarly ostracizes a formerly enslaved woman, Sethe, for killing her own daughter, Beloved, to protect her from the oppressive slave catcher, Schoolteacher. In both texts, the troubled protagonists Hester and Sethe each form their own identity by contending with or conforming to their society’s standards, demonstrating that community is a human necessity.

Many of us take community for granted without considering its complexities. In her article “Community,” Miranda Joseph details the nuances of the word itself, explaining that “community” is commonly overused and in an overly positive manner. Featured in Joseph’s article, British sociologist Nikolas Rose “suggests that the communities so invoked are required to take on responsibilities for ‘order, security, health, and productivity’ that were formerly carried by the state...

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