How does Hawthorne characterize the disciplining of children in the early days of the Boston Colony in "Scarlet Letter"?(from Chapter 6)

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 6 of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, discipline in the home is described as being maintained by strong control of the children and strict religious instruction. In other words, the rod is not spared and it is accompanied with "Scriptural authority" for both discipline and for the "promotion of childish virtues." In other words, during Puritan times, 

[T]he discipline of the family...was of a far more rigid kind than now. (Ch.6)

Hester, however, feels less justified to apply such rigidity since she herself has been guilty of sin. Therefore, she has sought to apply a "tender, but strict control" over her child. "But the task is beyond her skill." Another problem with Pearl is the fact that she is the child of Hester and, therefore, is an "emblem of sin" without right to be with other children. Whenever Pearl is confronted by them, she picks up stones to throw at the other children because of the hurtful things they often say. Also, Pearl understands the cruelty behind the child's words at times. Thus, little Pearl encounters a hostile world.


dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hawthorne characterizes the disciplining of children in the early days of the Boston Colony as being harsh and unyielding, and like all other aspects of Puritan life, religiously based.  He says,

"The discipline of the family, in those days, was of a far more rigid kind than now.  The frown, the harsh rebuke, the frequent application of the rod, enjoined by Scriptural authority, were used, not merely in the way of punishment for actual offences, but as a wholesome regimen for the growth and promotion of all childish virtues".

Hester, however, "mindful...of her own errors and misfortunes", sought to temper her raising of Pearl with tenderness, but found that the task of disciplining the child "was beyond her skill".  Pearl was capricious and headstrong from the time she was an infant, and although "physical compulsion or restraint was effectual...while it lasted", she would not be controlled.  Hester was "ultimately compelled to stand aside, and permit the child to be swayed by her own impulses" (Chapter 6).

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The Scarlet Letter

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