In "The Scarlet Letter," how does the Beadle personify Puritan values?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The beadle is the person who brings Hester out of the prison and up onto the scaffold. Of him, the narrator tell us that he had a "grim and gristly presence," with his sword and his staff of office. First, the beadle is described as grim, a word that is synonymous with somber and, even, forbidding. Consider the Puritans as the narrator has described them so far. The men wear "sad-coloured garments and grey steeple-crowned hats," and the women are called "pitiless [...] self-constituted judges." The narrator also references the "early severity of the Puritan character." They were, as Hawthorne depicts them, a very grim people indeed. Mercy does not seem to be their forte, as most of the women think Hester's punishment ought to be a great deal worse than it is. Given the beadle's description, that he is "like a black shadow emerging into the sunshine" with his sword and a symbol of his office, mercy doesn't seem like a word applicable to him, either.

Second, the beadle is described as gristly, a word which usually applies to very tough meat. The Puritans may not have prized mercy, but they were a tough people; they had to be to survive winter in the Massachusetts wilderness. The beadle seems to embody this qualify of toughness in his actions and person, as well. His role is not exactly a pleasant one, dealing with malefactors of all sorts, but he manages, as the Puritans do, relying on his toughness, perhaps, to help him achieve success in his role.

Further, the narrator says,

This personage prefigured and represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity of the Puritan code of law, which it was his business to administer in its final and closest application to the offender.

Thus, the beadle is the official representative of their laws, and so he must be seen to embody them in every way possible.

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The town beadle must enforce all of the laws of the Puritan society. He is the one who has kept Hester imprisoned during her pregnancy; he is the one who makes her stand on the scaffold and he is the one who decides when she has spent enough time both on the scaffold and in prison. If he had decided at any time that the treatment of Hester was unfair,others might have joined him and her punishment might have been altered. By enforcing the laws without question, he comes to personify the laws in his enforcement.

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The Scarlet Letter

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