The first contradiction in The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne is that between religion as an ideal and religion as it is actually practiced. Puritanism was originally intended as a return to the more pure religion of Jesus, purged of the worldliness and corruption of the Roman Catholic and Established Churches, but in this novel the Puritan movement has itself become repressive and lacking in Christian charity. The Reverend John Wilson and Governor Bellingham exemplify how Puritanism has become intolerant, and system of narrow rules and observances rather than the deeply spiritual and ethical movement it was intended to be.
The Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale also embodies contradictions in that while preaching Christian virtue he himself has committed adultery, being involved in an adulterous relationship with Hester.
The other major area of contradiction and contrast lies in the gender roles in the novel, where women, because they can become pregnant and thus show visible evidence of illicit sexual relationships, operate in an atmosphere of greater sexual restraint than the men in the novel.
Finally, Hester, who is an outcast by virtue of her pregnancy, becomes the great force of moral good, living a genuinely Christian life of poverty, simplicity, and good works.