Human Morality in "The Scarlett Letter"Where in The Scarlet Letter does it reaveal assumtions about humanity's moral character?

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pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the center of the story is the assumption that Hester Prynne, adulterer, a sinner, is an evil person.

The initial assumption is proven wrong, as Hester, bearing the letter A on her chest, lives a moral and upstanding life, in spite of her sin. Although the Puritan authorities believe that she is  forever marked, Hester rises above their low expectations for her.

Arthur Dimmesdale, on the other hand, Hester's lover, remains unidentified as Pearl's father.  His sin, carefully hidden beneath a life of suffering lies, is also a testament to moral character, or lack thereof.

The Puritan authorities and the people of the community judge Hester harshly as their religion requires.  However, at the end of the book, Hester becomes an icon or symbol for the courage and fortitude of women in this rugged period in early American life. She is revered for her strength and dignity and how she bore the letter upon her chest and did not allow it to steal her spirit. 

Therefore, the assumptions made about humanity's moral character, particularly Hester's, were wrong. It is proven throughout the book, especially after Pearl's birth when Hester's courage and determination are exhibited.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Roger Chillingworth also displays a lack of moral character.  As a medical doctor, he has taken oaths to "do no harm" yet his intentions toward Arthur Dimmesdale are nothing but harmful in nature.  He intends to torture the man until he is either crazy or dead, and Chillingworth succeeds at both, really.

nisarg | Student

The Scarlet Letter is filled with examples of people not doing what they want to becauseof their place in society.Their religion, class, and identitygreatly influence their actions because they are expect by society to act based on those things. Once one has earned an identity in society, society expects him/her to behave in a certain manner. The burden of their status, and fear of being shunned, prevents them from acting the way they want. There are two big examples of this idea in the book. Being the religious leader of the colony, Dimmesdale is looked upon by the people as an angel or the perfect man. Because of this reputation,Dimmesdale cannot confess to being the unmarried father of Hester Prynne’s child. He wants to take responsibility for Pearl, but because of his identity in society he cannot do it and that fills him with guilt. To repent for his sins, he abuses himself at night. The reader sees this when Chillingworth examines Dimmesdale’s body and sees the signs. The other example in the book involves the protagonist,Hester Prynne. Sheis branded with an “A” as punishment, and the letter sets her apart from the rest of society. Changing her reputation in societyforcesher to change her behavior.Hester moves to the border of the town and does charity to repent for her sins.This resembles today’s society. People at higher social or political status have to behave in a certain manner because society expects them to act that way. For example, Dimmesdale has to act like a perfect person because society expects him to. Even though they don’t want to, they have to do it to fulfill society’s expectations. Not meeting that expectation makes them a victim of harsh criticism.

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The Scarlet Letter

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