What are Hawthorne's and Miller's views on the treatment of “the outsider”?

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omconnelly eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hawthorne and Miller both share the point of view that an outsider is someone ostracized from the community without justification.

In Hawthorne's works such as the Scarlet Letter and "The Minister's Black Veil," he portrays the outsiders in the texts as characters who are excommunicated by a society that does not acknowledge its own hypocrisy. In The Scarlett Letter, Hester Prynn is ostracized because of her extramarital affair that results in the birth of her daughter Pearl. The community at large does not consider the circumstances that lead up to the affair: Hester's loveless marriage, her own isolation, and the emotional bond that develops between Hester and Dimmesdale that results in their affair. As a result, Hester is punished and branded for her sin with a jail term and a scarlet "A" that she must adorn after leaving prison. This further illustrates how the community at large is unwilling to forgive or forget about Hester's indiscretions. It is also important to note that Hester's paramour does not receive any punishment from the community and is not identified to the public at large until his death. 

In Hawthorne's short story, "The Minister's Black Veil," the community is disturbed by the minister's insistence on wearing a black veil over his face at all times. They cannot understand why the minister chooses to punish himself this way and are left to speculate about the justification. As a result, the community avoids him, and he is ostracized as well. The irony is the individual community members' own sins are identified throughout the course of the story because of their fears about the minister's self-inflicted punishment.

In Miller's play The Crucible, we also see the "outsider" character emerge as John Proctor. Unlike some of Hawthorne's characters, Proctor's sins are evident: he admits to having an extramarital affair with the young Abigail Williams. The community does not persecute Abigail because of her claims that the "devil made her do it" and she was enticed by witchcraft. Abigail is a duplicitous and cunning character because she understands her communities deep-rooted beliefs and fears: the devil and sin. Like Hester Prynn and the minister from Hawthorne's texts, Proctor refuses to give into community pressure and hypocrisy. Rather than admit he is a witch and sign his name declaring so, he choses death,

"Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them you have hanged! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!"

It is important to understand the characteristics of the communities in both Hawthorne's and Miller's works. The communities are both Puritanical or at least modeled after the rigid Puritan belief system. The communities also have a fascination and a fear of sin. Rather than admitting that sin a part of human nature, the Puritanical societies try to expel sin entirely from their community; a task that is near to impossible. The result is a hypocritical society that is obsessed with the idea of identifying sin and punishing the sinner. This results in the heroic and persecuted protagonist who is not accepted as member of society. 

Read the study guide:
The Crucible

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