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