Why does Hawthorne begin The Scarlet Letter with a reflection about the need for a cemetery and a prison?

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Hawthorne writes:

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized that among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.

 Hawthorne suggests...

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Hawthorne writes:

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized that among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.

 Hawthorne suggests that whatever Utopia is established, there always will be death, and there always will be crime, that this is just part of humans living in a community.  This isn't just applicable to Puritan New England, but to any new colony at any time in history.  However, the Puritan settlers established a theocracy, and the prison was for moral as well as civil infractions, both being the same in their eyes. Similarly, the cemetery serves as an extension of the prison, incarcerating those who challenged or broke civil/moral law in the extreme. These two institutions, prison and cemetary, are tightly related in a theocracy, and in this case, express the rigid Puritannical philosophy of crime and punishment.  Later in this chapter he mentions Anne Hutchinson, who was hanged for expressing her own belief about God, a belief which opposed the moral/civil authorities, who condemned her to death.  She, like Hester, was a resident in the same prison, but Hester fortunately escapes hanging, although the Puritan matrons consider it an appropriate punishment for her crime. 

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Nathaniel’s Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a story about how sin imprisons otherwise good people, most importantly Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. By discussing the need for a prison on the very first page, Hawthorne immediately sets the groundwork for a comparison between physical imprisonment and spiritual imprisonment—a metaphor that operates throughout the book. Addressing the need for a cemetery and a prison also allows Hawthorne to illustrate the impossibility of creating the perfect human society. No matter how noble and Godly the Puritans are hoping to be, they are still going to have transgressors, and they are still going to grow old and die.

It is worth noting that he refers to the prison as the “black flower of civilized society.” This metaphorical imagery will be repeated halfway through the story when Dimmesdale and Chillingworth have a veiled discussion about how hidden sin affects a person. In this later passage, the cemetery is also mentioned as the place where “black weeds” were growing on person’s grave, a person who was probably hiding some “hideous secret.” This relates directly to Dimmesdale’s character and his fatal predicament, which some consider to be the focal point of the story.

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