What is the irony in each of the following statements, and indicate the real point about Puritan society that Hawthrone is making in each case?a. "Truly, friend, and methinks it must gladden your...

What is the irony in each of the following statements, and indicate the real point about Puritan society that Hawthrone is making in each case?

a. "Truly, friend, and methinks it must gladden your heart, after your troubles and sojourn in the wilderness...to find yourself, at length, in a land where iniquity is search out, and punished in the sight of rulers and people; as her in our godly New England"

b. "The penalty thereof is death.  But, in their great mercy and tenderness of heart, they have doomed Mistress Prynne to stand only a space of three house on the platform of the pillory, and then thereafter. for the remainder of her natural life, to wear a mark of shame upon her bosom"

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MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first is spoken by a member of the town to Chillingsworth. He has just explained how he spent a number of years amongst the Native Americans. It is ironic in the first place that the town member sees native civilizations as "trouble...in the wilderness", but the real irony lies in the description of Salem itself. The speaker is referring to the sentence and public punishment of Hester, but Hester really committed no crime. Yet the speaker says "iniquity is searched out, and punished in the sight of rulers and people". But they have proved nothing in their punishment of Hester, and the scene becomes a kind of entertainment for the population of Salem. Hawthorne is criticizing the hypocrisy of the town: the fact that these people are willing to punish a single mother with a newborn baby, but not their own sins.

In the second quote, we see verbal irony. There is no "great mercy and tenderness of heart" in Hester's sentence. In fact, it seems quite harsh and cruel under the circumstances. At, you may agree with her standing "only a space of three hours on the platform", but it's followed up with "for the remainder of her natural life". It's very difficult to imagine people caring that Hester Prynne committed adultery 10 years later. Hawthorne here is criticizing the Puritan's overly-zealous nature, and their eagerness to punish others. His point is that it's an incredibly restrictive and punitive society.

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The Scarlet Letter

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