What are some different passages that reveal what the villagers fear and most want in "The Scarlet Letter"?

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ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first two chapters of "The Scarlet Letter" have the longest passages describing the villagers of Boston. In the first chapter, Hawthorne paints a picture of a town that sincerely wants to be is a utopia, but it has found it must built both a prison and a cemetery. Thus, both sin, which the Puritans feared and death, which was inevitable, were active in the village. In the second chapter, the reason for the Puritans fear of sin is revealed during the first scaffold scene. Puritans believed that any sin committed in the community would cause God’s wrath to be visited on them. An illness or misfortune would show God’s disapproval. Puritans looked for sins that had been committed so that the sin could be brought out in the open and the members of the community could express their scorn for that sin. Consequently, Hester's sin is openly mocked and some women suggest her punishment is too lenient. As Dimmesdale alludes to when he questions Hester, the Puritans believed in predestination and public confession. This meant that the “saved” (those destined to spend eternity in Heaven) had already been determined. One knew whether one was a member of “God’s elect” by being able to avoid sin. Thus, Dimmesdale, as well as others in the town, would be mortified because his sin might mean he was damned, a Puritan's greatest fear, and not attain salvation, a Puritan's greatest wish.

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The Scarlet Letter

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