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While the lengthy discussion which Hawthorne which injects into Chapter XXI of The Scarlet Letter may appear to be an irrelevant digression from the narrative, it attests to the author's knowledge both of the Puritans' history and his attitude toward their society. For instance, there is clearly pointed satire in Hawthorne's remark,
Into this festal season of the year—as it already was, and continued to be during the greater part of two centuries—the Puritans compressed whatever mirth and public joy they deemed allowable to human infirmity; thereby so far dispelling the customary cloud, that, for the space of a single holiday, they appeared scarcely more grave than most other communities at a period of general affliction.
The instillation of the new governor, which allows for a "holiday," is nothing like those celebrated in the "merry old England" from whence the Puritans have come. For, this day differs only from other days in the lives of those who "wore the blackest shade of Puritanism" with the exception of stopping work by in
relaxing the severe and close application to their various modes of rugged industry, which, at all other times, seemed of the same piece and material with their religion.
That this is the only digression from the quotidian is also evinced with the usual position of Hester in the community. For, she is yet isolated from the others:
As was usually the case wherever Hester stood, a small vacant area—a sort of magic circle—had formed itself about her, into which, though the people were elbowing one another at a little distance, none ventured, or felt disposed to intrude.
As Hawthorne mentions, work and religion are the staples of Puritanism with no deviation. Gone, writes Hawthorne, are ancestral vestiges of the theatrical and celebratory England of Queen Elizabeth or even that of King James. Pointing to the hypocrisy of this grim civilization is the fact that the sailors, who "transgressed without fear or scruple the rules of behaviour that were binding on all others," are able to revel in the day and smiled at by the Puritans "not benignantly at the clamor and rude deportment of these jolly seafaring men."
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