The Scarlet Letter

Sinners at the Hands of an Oppressive Society

In The Scarlet Letter, author Nathaniel Hawthorne uses Hester Prynne, an unhappily married seamstress, and Arthur Dimmesdale, the local Puritan clergyman, to prove that a community that forcefully suppresses the natural desires of an individual is dangerous, both to the individual and to the community. The story is centered around Hester's public punishment for adultery: she is forced to wear a scarlet "A" on her chest at all times. She is caught because she becomes pregnant while her husband is away, but the name of the other guilty party - the father, Dimmesdale - is withheld by Hester from the entire community. Stemming from this situation, which gradually increases in complexity, are the human symbols used to personify the theme; because of the oppressive community, Hester undergoes mental deterioration, Dimmesdale suffers physical ailments, and both of them ultimately undermine the Puritan system.

Hester's character speaks to the psychological side effects that can arise as byproducts of submission to an oppressive community. These side effects - which include rebelliousness and resentment - are dangerous to individuals within a society. Because of her "sin," Hester becomes ostracized, is...

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