Essay Example: Struggles for Individualism Against Societal Norms in The Scarlet Letter

Published: 2022-04-04
Essay Example: Struggles for Individualism Against Societal Norms in The Scarlet Letter
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Nathaniel Hawthorne Romantic literature Family drama
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1612 words
14 min read

"Society everywhere is in a conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members...the virtue in the most request in conformity" (Emerson, 13). These strong words were written by Emerson to show how the society Glorifies conformity to rules and laws made by man. The statement shows how over the years humankind has put in place laws and expectation on themselves in the hope of freedom only for this law and aspiration to be a hindrance of freedom to their generation to come.

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Men in most cases fail to understand that every society undergoes a process of revolution and in every period of evolvement the laws have to change. It is also of great importance that human beings understand the statutes and expectation of one individual or a particular group of people cannot be imposed on others (Brilliant, 1357). However, the society keeps dictating the rules that all people should follow, and inability to conform to this rules portrays one to be an outcast. One, therefore, leaves in fear of becoming an outcast and those who decide to cover their path away from the societal one they have to live as loners and being looked down as rebels.

Nathaniel Hawthorne in his book The Scarlet letter seems to agree with the thoughts of Emerson. In the novel, he vividly explains the strict rules and laws that have engulfed the Puritan religion. The people in this society are presented with strict Christians like regulations and laws that they ought to abide with. Some of this beliefs included that man is the head of the household, and therefore he is mandated to make all the family decisions without having to consult any other family member. The women, on the other hand, were tasked with the responsibilities of taking care of the family. Any sexual sin was punished severely mostly in front of the members of the society. The members of the community are not allowed to express how they feel, and the women are not permitted to display their beauty.

Hester Prynne is a female character that gives the reader a clear picture into the daily life of Puritan community. At the onset of the story, Hester is seen coming out of prison having been convicted of adultery (LitChart, 1). In her arms, she proudly carries her illegitimate baby pearl with pride. She does not hold her head down with shame either does she feel any regrets for what she deed. This acts shows that women had more power than men in the Puritan society only that they were not permitted to exercises this power. Women were the stronghold of any society since they provided the necessary care of their husbands and children.

In the forest, Hester feels free to do things that she desires. According to the author, it is in the woods that Hester could confidently remove her cape and let down her hair without feeling shameful. It is still in the woods that she could proudly confess her love for Dimmesdale. In the woods, they could talk about topics which they could hardly speak in the society. At some point Hester refers to the action they did and that they felt it so. Dimmesdale hushes her and tells her not to talk about it, though he later remembers that in that environment they could talk about any topic (Gerber, 28). The forest, therefore, symbolizes the freedom that the Puritan members were denied. The right to express who they indeed are. The forest also represents true nature of every human person. At some point, Hester claims that life should be allowed to take its course and not be dictated by man

Hester is also portrayed as a strong-minded woman. When she is brought in front of the community and ask about her pregnancy, she knows very well that the puritan's rules have no place for her. Though she understands that she will be shamed and humiliated in front of the community, she refuses to let her partner share the punishment (Harris,7). She agrees to endure her agony together with that of her partner. This shows the brevity of women in the society. It shows how they are courageous to go against the rules that have been put in place by humans.

This action makes Hester to be excommunicated. She goes to live outside the community with her daughter though other people keep pointing at her. It's therefore clear that no matter how many rules and laws have been put in place by the society people can still decide not to conform to this rules. And the power not to obey is in once hands.

Dimmesdale is a male character who has been used to represent two important theme male dormancy and religion. While men in the puritan's society are supposed to be active and single-minded, Dimmesdale is not this. Though he does a good work of offering advice to other people, he does not faithfully practice the Puritans laws (Gerber, 30). The forest he confesses his love to Hester who is not a Puritan. She speaks about intimate matters with her once again going against the puritans laws. While this is a form of weakness on his side since he is portrayed weak in the hands of Hester. Men, therefore, may not be as strong as they claim to be in this society and they may also require advice.

Dimmesdale being a puritan minister is supposed to shun away from all sexual evils, yet he participates in them. He sleeps with Hester something which weighs strongly in his soul, but he does not own up to his sin. In this context, we see the hypocrisy of the religion. The author says that the more the matter weighed deeply in him, the more powerful his sermons become.

Religion, therefore, acts as a cover for the people's wrongdoings. When Dimmesdale finally confesses his sin in front of the congregation people sees this as an act of humility and praise him for it once again showing hypocrisy in religion and the pressure to conform to the social norms (LitChart, 1). The Puritans, therefore, were hypocritical religion according to this text and they also needed to ask for forgiveness of their sins and not judge those who have too sinned since all of them are human.

Our modern world can be equated to that of Hester. First similarities are that in both worlds indifferent is something that is shunned as seen as a sin. Most people will opt to do things the same way over and over again as long as it is according to the social rules and norms. People will continuously refuse any changes that come their way regardless of their benefits (Brilliant, 1360). The people will continually rebuke any form of indifferent because they wish they could participate, but they cannot hence case of bullying.

Secondly, the worlds are similar regarding the norms and the expectations that are placed by the society. In both worlds, the women are expected to be the caregivers while the men are supposed to be the head of the family. Sexual sin is still regarded as the most significant sin and people who get children out of wedlock are seen as immoral people, and hence people stay away from them.

The quote can still be used to explain the actions of the narrator in the text he Tells- Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. In this text, the narrator kills an old man because he was obsessed with his eyes. The narrator will torture the people before killing them. To his defense, he claims that he is not encased or paranoid because if he were, he would not be able to tell the story coherently. The narrator expects the reader to believe that he is not insane because everybody in a society who can retell a story coherently is sane. This shows how the society conspires against humanity.

In the text, William Wilson by Edgar Allan Poe, the narrator sees his life as a social norm that he does not wish to keep following. He views his schools as a Gothic prison. He hates the fact that the society dictates to him that he has to go to school and at one place he runs away from school. This act shows that most people try to break the social norms some managers while other conform without having to stray. When the narrator moved to another school, he abuses alcohol in an attempt to forget his competitor. This act shows how human beings look for another alternative to alter their behaviors to deal with the feeling of being bound by the social norms

It is therefore vital that the lawmakers in the society should be flexible allowing people the freedom to do what is right in their eyes without the fear of being judged for their actions. It should also be clear that the effects of one man should not be life-threatening to another member of the society. The people should also learn to co-exist with each other regardless of their differences whether religious, morality and gender. Members of the community should also be given equal opportunities to air their ideas.

Works cited

Brilliant, Jon A. "The Modern Day Scarlet Letter: A Critical Analysis of Modern Probation Conditions." Duke Law Journal 1989.5 (1989): 1357-1385.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson. HenryBennet, 2010.

Gerber, John C. "Form and Content in The Scarlet Letter." The New England Quarterly 17.1 (1944): 25-55.

Harris, Kenneth Marc. Hypocrisy and Self-deception in Hawthorne's Fiction. Univ of Virginia Pr, 1988.

LitChart Editors. "The Scarlet Letter:Characters." N.p., 2011. Web. 23 Sept. 2012. <>

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