Scarlet Letter By Hawthorne Idea Essay Research

Scarlet Letter By Hawthorne Idea Essay, Research Paper The Scarlet Letter is a story of hypocrisy and punishment. The strict Puritan laws made adultery a sin punishable by death or a life of misery. Although being

Scarlet Letter By Hawthorne Idea Essay, Research Paper

The Scarlet Letter is a story of hypocrisy and punishment. The strict Puritan

laws made adultery a sin punishable by death or a life of misery. Although being

an unwed mother or an illegitimate child is no longer a crime leading to capitol

punishment, the treatment of welfare mothers and their children is similar to

the treatment Hester an Pearl received in Hawthorne?s novel. Hester and Pearl

are prime examples of the negative attitude society, both Puritan and current,

has toward single mothers and their ?bastard? children. Hester and Pearl are

the atypical example of illegitimate child and unwed mother. The consequence of

the relationship between Hester and Dimmesdale is a child out of wedlock. Hester

is forced to stand with her child on a scaffold which according to Hawthorne is

?invested with almost as stern a dignity as the punishment of death itself.?

Pearl is forced to grow up without a father and Hester is left to make a life

for herself and her child with no social succor. The puritans favored laws that

would force society to hear their preaching (2.Gatis, 5). To the Puritan

community Hester?s ?A? is a mark of just punishment. According to Crime

and Punishment in American History, executing adulterers was a rare event.

Branding and banishment was more common than the death penalty (6.Friedman, 36).

In a society where there is no separation of church and state, the letter

prevents Hester from being an active member of society. Hester, or a puritan

woman in her condition, is held as an example for all to behold. While Hester is

forced to wear a symbol of her sin, Pearl is forced to grow up watching her

mother chastised. She can not have a normal childhood, for she does not fit into

society. Her father is a ?dead beat dad? and lends no hand in her up

bringing. Hawthorne states, ?Pearl was born an outcast of the infantile world.

An imp of evil, emblem and product of sin, she had no right among christened

infants.? In the Puritan community, the father is considered the head of

household. According to Edmund S. Morgan?s The Puritan Family, there was a law

in Massachusetts holding the head of household responsible for teaching their

children and providing instruction of civil matters. Family in the Puritan

society was a means for carrying out civil purposes (5.Kerry, 16). Family life

was very important and all members of the society were expected to be part of a

family. Fatherless children would not fall into the category of a family unit,

therefore Pearl, not having a proper family, is chastised and branded a child of

the devil. Although Dimmsedale does not remain unscathed by sin, he is not

punished by society. He is able to hide his participation in the evil act, and

escape a punishment of death. Hester is forced to raise the child on her own

without any moral or monetary support from her lover. She has to ask to be

allowed to keep her child, and is forced to do so as a single mother. Although

the town wants to find the father of Pearl in the beginning of the novel, the

issue is not forced, and Dimmsedale escapes responsibility. Despite the

suffering Dimmsedale feels internally, he still takes no initiative to help in

the raising of Pearl. Although having a child out of wedlock is no longer

punishable by death, and women are no longer forced to wear scarlet letters,

unwed mothers are still the ones held solely responsible for their illegitimate

children. Unwed mothers are branded as immoral welfare recipients who are too

lazy to work. AFDC is known as a wasteful program that encourages unwed mothers

to continue to have children. Much of society has not change their views since

the Puritan days. At the American Enterprise Institute luncheon Charles Murray

said, ?The act of getting pregnant if you are not prepared to care for a child

is not morally neutral, it is a very destructive act. And much as we may

sympathize with a young woman who finds herself in that situation? part of

arranging society so that happens as seldom as possible is to impose terrible

penalties on that act (1.Conniff, 18).? This is seemingly reverting to the

tactics used by the Puritans. Welfare programs for unwed mothers are thought to

be a waste of tax dollars. Politicians continue to debate welfare reforms while

the country continues to view unwed mothers as failures. In the article Just the

Facts, Katha Pollitt writes, ?As a mythological figure, the welfare mother is

virtually the opposite of Joseph Campbell?s Hero With a Thousand Faces-

she?s the villain with only one: the greedy, lazy Welfare Queen? (4.Pollitt,

9)? Today, as in Puritan days, stigmas remain on unwed mothers and their

illigitimate children. Children like Pearl are no longer linked to the devil,

but instead to crime and drug use. Illegitimacy is seen as a hereditary problem

and single parent households are blamed for the rise in teenage pregnancies.

Even Dimmsedale?s character has a place in the modern version of Hawthorne?s

tale. Welfare reform continues to attack unwed mothers, but the fathers are able

to conceal their part. Just as Dimmesdale, they face no consequences if they are

not found out. Although there are talks of hunting down the dead beat dads of

America, the concentration of importance is still attacking welfare mothers.

According to Physiology Today 25% of fathers are believed to pay no child

support (3. P.K.). Even if the fathers were found and forced to pay, financial

support is only part of what makes a father. Like Dimmesdale, many fathers today

feel they are unable to spiritually or physically be with their children.

Hawthorne says the Puritans were ?a people amongst whom religion and law were

almost identical.? Our society today is supposed to have a separation between

church and state. Who is to say that being an unwed mother is negative or a sin?

We as a people continue to paint an ugly face on those who ?lack the

responsibility? to be married before they procreate. Hester Prynne and Pearl

are made to suffer because of such a mentality. The single mothers of today are

still scorned while the Arthur Dimmsedales are left to suffer inwardly, or not

at all. Welfare reforms threaten to end what little support our communities give

to the Hester Prynnes of our time. Hester and Pearl are truly representative of

the views of society towards unwed mothers and illegitimate children. Our

negative attitude to welfare mothers are similar to the scarlet letter, and our

social nuances may be every bit as effective. The question is; how effective is

the branding of our single mothers?

1. Conniff, Ruth. ?Big Bad Welfare.? The Progressive. August 1994: 18-22.

2. Gatis, George. ?Puritan Jurisprudence: A Study in Substantive Biblical

Law.? Contra Mundum. Summer 1994. (7 Oct. 1998). 3. P.K.

?Psychology Today on Deadbeat Dads.? Psychology Today. April 1989. (7 Oct. 1998). 4. Pollitt, Katha. ?Just the Facts.? The

Nation. June 1996: 9. 5. Ptacek, Kerry. ?Family Instruction and Christian

Public Education in Puritan New England.? Covenant Family. 1995: 16. 6.

Friedman, Lawrence. Crime and Punishment in American History. New York: Basic

Books, 1993.