In The Scarlet Letter, what is the "black flower" of civilized society?

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poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nathaniel Hawthorne refers to the prison as "the black flower of civilized society" in the first chapter of The Scarlet Letter. This structure is a representation of the punitive nature of human beings. Although the Puritans have sought out a new home in the New World, one of the first actions they take is to erect a building meant to imprison others; this seems to suggest that despite their moral and religious convictions, the Puritans are convinced that someone will eventually sin and, thus, warrant arrest.

Thus, blackness represents that sin--the blemish of society which is necessary for a form of incarceration to exist. It is also significant that Hawthorne chose to refer to the prison as a flower and not a weed; this implies that the prisons were "planted" and wanted rather than just "popping up."

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator
In Chapter One of "The Scarlet Letter", Hawthorne describes the prison as the "black flower" of civilized society. He ironically points out that the Puritans felt they had a utopian society, yet one of the first things they had to built was a prison to hold those who broke the law.He then compares this "black flower" of society to the rose bush that grew outside the prison door. The rose bush might have sprung up when the "sainted" Anne Huchinson, a believer in freedom of religion, was put in the prison. In any case, the rose bush is offered as a contrast to the "black flower" and used as a symbol of something beautiful that exists in this dark, society.
shadii | Student



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The Scarlet Letter

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