Public Shame In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

Superior Essays
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a story entirely focused on public shame. During the time of the Puritans in the mid-1600s, ignominy was one way punishment was granted unto those who had committed sins. Ignominy, though a foreign word to many, is no old topic. Seen in nearly every aspect of society today, public shaming nearly completely controls the image society gives to those who have done wrong. The reputation of a poor action is on the shoulders of the wrongdoer for nearly the rest of his or her life due to the way magazines, news reports, and the judgment of people hold to the grudge. Though during the seventeenth century the ease of spreading gossip was not as it is today, people easily knew what the sinners in their villages …show more content…
In Hester Prynne’s case, the townspeople of Boston went from seeing her as an offender and a disgusting human being to a person of kind heart. They began to accept her, and their view of the “A” went from “adulteress” to “able.” However, this change of public view did not change the way Hester viewed herself. Hawthorne described the scarlet letter upon Hester’s dress as “an internal fire” and “her piece of shame” (The Scarlet Letter 91). Of course, judges would no longer require a letter to be sewn to the clothes of an offender so that it could be seen at all times, but the uniforms worn by inmates even when in public is an immediately recognizable way for citizens to see that these people have done something wrong. This can be an effective way to warn people of possibly dangerous criminals, but it also causes witnesses to immediately associate these people with wrong instead of their identities. Another difference between the way the Puritans saw Hester and how society sees rule breakers now is that there is no change in view. “Once a cheater always a cheater” and “if he did it once, he will do it again” are phrases heard over and over again about people who commit bad deeds. The people of modern society hold a grudge, and these grudges can be passed on to people who may not have even lived when the incident occurred. Patt Morrison of The Los Angeles …show more content…
This can easily be explained by the fact that humans do not live in the same world they did 400 years ago. Though the ways of punishment and public view have changed over the years, the judgment of people continues to rule in the hearts of the people of society. One could compare the public shaming of the Puritans to now forever, but that will not fix the issue. Public shaming is a form of punishment that is continuing to be used under the table, and does not seem as if it could possibly be legal. Ignominy was one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s main points with The Scarlet Letter, and people will continue to try to figure out what the Puritans were thinking for the rest of eternity. Public shaming isn’t public shaming at all, but it is judgment in the hearts of humans who are no greater than the offenders on the

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