How do different levels of government operate in the region?(What is the basis for their power and who runs things?) Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Puritan community of The Scarlet Letter is essentially a theocracy as the doctrines of Puritanism dictate the laws.  This connection is clearly indicated in the first chapter entitled "The Prison Door."  Moreover, the rust and decay that surround this door also bring into question the moral uprightness of a religion that punishes with such harshness its transgressors. In addition, there is a hypocrisy to the religious government of the Puritan community.  The minister Mr. Wison, Boston's highest Puritan clergyman, is often a guest of the governor,indulging in the rich life of the ruler of the colony of Masssachusetts. Governor Bellingham lives in an ornate and respledent mansion, a dwelling sharply in contrast to the simplistic and humble dwellings dictated by Puritan thought.  His windows are of beautifully stained glass, broken into dazzling prisms of light.  Likewise, his garden is colorful,with rose bushes and fruit trees-- "as rich an ornament as New England earth would offer." His attire is not the simple and "sad-colored" garment of the Puritan; for his gloves are trimmed fancifully. When Pearl appears on the day of Hester's interview, brightly dressed in scarlet, the Reverend Mr. Wilson and the governor both chuckle as Mr. Wilson recalls the richly painted windows of churches in England, and Governor Bellingham is reminded of

" days of vanity, in old King James's time, when I was wont to esteem it a high favour to be admitted to a court mask!  There used to be a swarm of these small apparitions in holiday time, and we called them children of the Misrule." 

In sharpest contrast to the moral and judicial uprightness expected of a Puritan official is the fact that the governor's sister, Mistress Hibbins, is a witch who attends the black masses in the forest.  In fact, she invites Hester Prynne to join her as she encounters the young woman and her child passing from the mansion.

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