What is the setting of The Scarlet Letter? Why is the setting important to the novel's man vs. society conflict?
The novel The Scarlet Letter is set in the theocratic and patriarchal Puritan society of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The year is 1642, which means that this particular group of colonists settled in the area of Boston, and were part of a second wave of settlers that came from England in 1630 with the purpose of purifying the Church of England.
The specific society to which Hester and Roger Prynne had planned to go and be a part of, offered many opportunities for settlers to start new lives. However, the Puritan rule was in place. This means that, upon arriving to Massachusetts Bay, the colonists had to abide by the rules set by the magistrates. They would also have to be assigned to a spiritual leader, which was essentially a pastor that would watch over their spiritual health. Hester Prynne's assigned spiritual leader, upon her arrival, was Reverend Dimmesdale.
Hester came into the colony alone. Moreover, shortly after her arrival it was thought that her husband, Roger, had been lost at sea and was presumed dead. Also shortly after her arrival, Hester and her pastor begin an affair. It is presumably close enough to her arrival date, since, little thereafter, she becomes pregnant.
When she can no longer hide the pregnancy, she is forced to reveal the name of the father of the child. As she refuses to do so, she is not only punished with the scaffold and prison, but is also mandated to wear the letter "A", for adulterer, on her bosom for the rest of her natural life.
This series of events reveal the conflict of man (or woman) versus society. Hester Prynne arrived in the colony already a loveless wife. When her husband is presumed dead, she engages in a relationship with someone whom she actually loves. To the modern reader, Hester's actions may seem too quick but, considering her situation as someone forced to marry at a young age, they are still understandable.
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