How does The Scarlet Letter relate to today's world?

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Though modern-day America has evolved from the Puritanistic New England colonies of our forefathers, many themes that are present in The Scarlet Letter are still relevant to today's society: judgment towards women (and men) of a sexual nature, hypocrisy in religious figures, and the isolation that people on the outside of a community might feel. These are just a few examples of the way that The Scarlet Letter can relate to today's world.

Judgment towards women (and men) of a sexual nature

Though some generations and cultures in the last two hundred years have been more accepting of sexuality than others, there is still a lingering atmosphere of judgment for those who are sexual outside of the accepted norms of the society. For Hester, her society expected all women to be virginal and pure until marriage. While we might not have the same expectations of young women in American culture now, women and men might still feel criticized and pressured if their sexual behavior is seen as deviant by today's standards.

Hypocrisy in religious figures

While Hester is often perceived as a victim in Hawthorne's story, the author portrays Dimmesdale in a more negative light. It is ironic that the person who represents the religion is equally complicit as Hester in violating that religion. This treatment of Dimmesdale calls attention to the double standards for men and women in the society as well as the idea that Dimmesdale's status protects him. We might apply this idea to other figures in our society and wonder if the status of politicians, leaders, and religious figures protects them in some ways while at the same time punishing them more harshly in the public eye should their misdeeds come to light.

Isolation for people outside the community

It is obvious that Hester and her daughter are branded and set apart from society in the novel, but it is worth comparing this isolation to the isolation people might feel today who are on the fringes of our society. For example, consider the homeless, the elderly, prostitutes, or even foster children leaving the system as they age out. Each of these groups might feel that they have a certain stigma they carry around just as Hester carried her letter, and that stigma might cause them difficulty in finding their role in society. In relating this novel to our world, it is worth asking ourselves if we might be treating these groups with the same derision that Hester's society showed in shutting her out of their community.

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