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Adultery and Punishment in The Scarlet Letter

Adultery is a sin never taken lightly. It’s a serious crime that hurts not only the person committing it, but also the people around that person. A crime so serious requires a severe punishment, but that would just lead to more sorrow. In The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester is the main character who is forced to wear the letter ‘A’ on her chest for committing adultery with an unknown person. At times, the punishment should fit the crime, but under certain circumstances, the crime itself holds all the punishment that is needed.

During the Puritan time period, crimes for adultery ended in execution. In Hester’s case, she was only required to wear the scarlet letter because of the unknown information of who her husband and her lover were. Execution is too severe for a crime such as this, the taking of life never compensates for a crime that doesn’t physically take the life of another. Wearing the letter ‘A’ on the other hand seems reasonable at first; It subjects the adulterer to public humiliation and criticism. On the surface, this punishment is perceived as tame and doesn’t fully grasp the significance of the crime, but if you consider all the non-implied consequences of this type of punishment, you’ll notice that it is too harsh of a punishment for one to take.

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Physical pain is nothing compared to how the mind can hurt you. Hester’s mental anguish from being an outcast of her settlement is caused by her punishment. She felt alone and isolated from the world. Is all this torment worth the price of adultery? It is far too severe for a crime such as adultery. Punishment should only hurt the people that are guilty of the crime, but the punishment also affects Pearl, Hester’s daughter. Pearl was treated like her mother, an outcast from society. Why should an innocent young child have to suffer from her mother’s immoral mistakes?

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Temptations occur every day in our lives. They force us to do certain things that we don’t want to do. A temptation always delivers a positive effect towards one, but in exchange, it always has a consequence. Adultery is a crime that has temptation as a foundation. In our society, people believe that there is no perfect human being, that such a status would be impossible to achieve; but in our society, we each constantly thrive for perfection in ourselves and in the way we go about our lives. When our mind is focused on the idea of being perfect, we can’t accept imperfection. If a person around us acts in a manner that is not at our standards, we perceive him/her as inferior and subordinate.

We can’t help but criticize the “imperfection” that we see before us. Imperfection can be the way that a person may give in to a certain temptation. When Hester was publicly branded as an adulterer, the people around town began to think of her as a figure of evil and that she symbolizes all that is wrong in the world, thus ruining her social life and causing her mentally, and in turn physical, deterioration. Now if all of us can accept the fact that there is no perfect human being in this world, then why can we not accept the fact that there are people in this world that aren’t perfect? The punishment that has been brought upon Hester not only ruins her life but also visually shows the sins in all the people around her that questions her innocence.

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How a person is punished, always coincides with the crime itself. But how do you create a punishment for committing adultery? Adultery is more of an ethical crime than it is harmful to society. When a person commits adultery, only the people involved should be involved because it’s so personal. The fact that the church has so much influence over the government itself is not in the best interest of society, and a crime against God’s will is not always necessarily a crime against mankind.

In Puritanical views, we can see how a crime such as adultery can be punished but isn’t a person punished enough when they commit adultery? And even if they weren’t, why would it be necessary to punish their unmoral views on life? Mr Dimmesdale, Hester’s lover, is a perfect example of how a person is punished by the act itself. When he had committed adultery with Hester, his identity was unknown which allowed him to remain anonymous. But his conscience had reduced him to a weak, ill man and later causing his death. Wouldn’t that be punishment enough?

Life is all about second chances. A perfect world can never and should never be achieved. Adultery is a serious crime, but a punishment such as the scarlet letter is far too serious for this crime. A punishment such as this would hurt the person and the people around him/her far too much, and the fact that they all probably suffered from the crime itself makes the punishment less necessary.

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Adultery and Punishment in The Scarlet Letter. (2021, Mar 02). Retrieved December 1, 2022, from