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What does "loss of community" mean in The Scarlet Letter

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chemiramccray | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 12, 2012 at 1:00 PM via web

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What does "loss of community" mean in The Scarlet Letter

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 12, 2012 at 6:27 PM (Answer #1)

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The meaning of "loss of community" has strong implications in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. When Hester Prynne left her prison cell after being sent there for committing the sin of adultery, she realized how much harder life will be for her without the protection of the walls of the jail. Now, she would have to face the community on her own, with no protection, nor any other place to go and hide.

But now...began the daily custom, and she must either sustain and carry it forward by the ordinary resources of her nature, or sink beneath it.. Tomorrow would bring its own trial with it; so would the next day, and so would the next; each its own trial...

This is because now Hester will officially become the pariah of the village. The anger and self-reproaches of the people of Boston will now be thrown upon Hester as if she were a scapegoat. In this way, the sense of community is completely lost for Hester, who now has to isolate herself in order to avoid the cruelty and the bad manners of the sanctimonious Puritans.

There is another way to look at the "loss of community" in that Hester did not flee from the village completely as someone else could have done. She could have returned to England on her own to escape her ignonimity in Boston. However, for reasons that the narrator calls "half-truths, half-illusions", Hester preferred to simply distance herself from the focal part of town where most of the people resided. She would still be a "part" of the community of Boston, regardless of having lost the "sense" of community that comes with neighborly unity.  Since Hester could never aspire to be a part of the community as it was, her only choice was to live in a world parallel to it in a

little, lonesome dwelling, with some slender means that she possessed, and by the license of the magistrates, who still kept an inquisitorial watch over her...

However, keep in mind that Hester maintains "a" role in the village through the making of her garments, and through her self-appointed role as a sister of mercy who takes care of the sick. Remember that, years later, Hester would be seen by her fellow villagers as "their own Hester", and her scarlet letter will be seen by many more as a symbol of being "able", and not of being an "adulteress". Therefore, although the loss of community does occur at first, it will not follow Hester forever as badly as it does at the beginning of her ordeal.

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