Why does Hawthorne say the scaffold was "an outrage against our common nature"?Chapter 2 in The Scarlet Letter

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

On Chapter 2, in the The Scarlett Letter, Hawthorne defines the situation at the scaffold as follows:

There can be no outrage, methinks, against our common nature,--whatever be the delinquencies of the individual,--no outrage more flagrant than to forbid the culprit to hide his face for shame; as it was the essence of this punishment to do. In Hester Prynne's instance, however, as not infrequently in other cases, her sentence bore, that she should stand a certain time upon the platform, but without undergoing that gripe about the neck and confinement of the head, the proneness to which was the most devilish characteristic of this ugly engine. Knowing well her part, she ascended a flight of wooden steps, and was thus displayed to the surrounding multitude, at about the height of a man's shoulders above the street.

It is very obvious that Hawthorne was speaking truly in favor of Hester when he made this statement. It basically says that the people bring out the worst of them for the sake of chastising others while over compensating their own chastity and morality. The scaffold is an engine of humiliation, dedicated to break a person morally and psychologically. With that being said, the scaffold does worst to the character of a human being than the swift blow of a sword or the guillotine itself. It is perennial damage intended to cause havoc into the hearts and mind of the people who are submitted to it. It is the worst kind of treatment to be given a person especially coming from what is meant to be a town of chaste dignity. The scaffold is definitely against the intended nature of humanity which is to try our best to bring the best in ourselves, and others. The scaffold does exactly the opposite.

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The Scarlet Letter

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