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The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne

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There are numerous concepts contained within the story that are alien to a modern reader and remained somewhat unfamiliar to Hawthorne himself but were elemental to the early Puritans. One example of this is the concept that Hester could not just run off with Reverend Dimmesdale as she might have had she lived in this century even though her husband had not been seen since she left England and the marriage was a forced marriage anyway. The Puritans held a strict social order that took into account each other’s perceived righteousness. Therefore, those who were considered closer to God had a higher social rank in society from those who were considered to be closer to sin. Thanks to the story of Adam and Eve, this meant men were closer to God than women and religious men were closer to God than those who worked the fields. The concept of sin ruled every aspect of life in this society, an aspect of Puritan life that is reflected well throughout all of Hawthorne’s stories. To understand this context, then, it is necessary to look at the religious, social and environmental factors that restricted Hester in the 1600s.Puritanism dictated just about everything involved in colonial life in the 1600s New England, even including how people talked with each other, how they dressed and what kind of relationships they had. “In addition to believing in the absolute sovereignty of God, the total depravity of man, and the complete dependence of human beings on divine grace for salvation, they stressed the importance of personal religious experience” (Bowden, 2004). Because of this connection to personal religious experience, Hester knew she would not be able to run away from her marriage vows to marry another even if she did stretch them in her relationship to Reverend Dimmesdale. As a Puritan herself, she had to remain in the village as a married woman as was agreed upon in her marriage to Dr. Prynne, aka Roger Chillingworth until she had confirmation that he was deceased.