Theme of Hypocrisy in the Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter authored by Nathaniel Hawthorne is an American literature classic. It delves into a puritanical society and follows the life of Hester, a woman convicted of lechery. Her punishment is to permanently wear a token of her sin. The punishment, a scarlet “A”, causes her to experience humiliation wherever she travels and is a constant reminder to herself of her sin. Whilst Hester did commit lechery, the focal sin of the book mentioned by the author is hypocrisy. In the Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne communicates the theme of hypocrisy leading to guilt and suffering through the characterization of the main characters.
In the beginning of the novel, the community is gathered around a scaffold awaiting to see Hester Prynne publicly condemned for committing lechery. This mob of gray-dressed people begins to ridicule Hester about her punishment, the group being described as unattractive and sad colored. Hawthorne writes, “the man-like Elizabeth had been the not altogether unsuitable representative of the sex. They were her countrywomen: and the beef and ale of their native land, with a moral diet, not a whit more refined, entered largely into their composition.
How it works
The bright morning sun, therefore, shone on broad shoulders and well-developed busts, and on round and ruddy cheeks…” (Hawthorne 48). It is clear here that these women have jealousy towards Hester Prynne’s beauty and are ridiculing her to compensate for their own appearance. These women even discuss cruel punishments for Hester’s sin which further demonstrates the theme of hypocrisy. “At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead… This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die; Is there not law for it? Truly there is, both in scripture and in statute book…” (Hawthorne 48) These punishments recommended by the community portray the hypocritically of the townspeople. They are using the word of God as an excuse to execute a woman for their own personal contentment. The community is looking for mistakes in others when that mistake is in themselves. That mistake is sin, and in the quotes, both parties have made mistakes, yet the community is acting morally superior. This contributes to Hester’s suffering and also contributes.
Furthermore, Hester Prynne also acts hypocritically when speaking to Dimmesdale about the intimacy of their relationship. “I felt no love, nor feigned any” (74 Hawthorne). Then, subsequently, speaking to Dimmesdale, Hester further reveals her belief that she has not sinned, saying, “What we did had a consecration of its own. We felt it so” (192 Hawthorne). Therefore, Hester does not believe that she has committed a sin. Hester agrees with the court’s ruling with little complaint or resistance and wears the letter expressing to the community that she is an adulteress. Hester, despite the fact she doesn’t think she has sinned, wears the letter without resistance. Even after the subsequent years, Hester still endures ridicule and shame brought by the scarlet letter. Hester still suffers even after