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Dimmesdale in ‘The Scarlet Letter’

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Hester Pyrnne committed adultery with reverend Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter; this fact is not disputed. However, such an act did not warrant a lifetime of disgrace. Hester should have been punished for her sin, but wearing the Scarlet “A” for the rest of her life was too harsh of a punishment. The lifetime sentence to wear the “A” did not leave any possibility for repentance, forgiveness, or recognition for a lifestyle change. Hester deserved to be punished for committing adultery, but wearing the scarlet letter “A” for her entire life was much too punitive.

In the Puritan society in which Hester lived, it was not uncommon to be publicly humiliated as punishment for a sin. In fact, public humiliation was sometimes considered a light punishment. In chapter 1 of The Scarlet Letter, the women outside of the jailhouse discussed Hester’s punishment. Most of the women in this scene agreed that simply wearing a scarlet letter for life was not a harsh enough sentence. This is a perfect example of how common it was to be punished for committing a sin in the Puritan society; Hester’s punishment did not surprise the women even slightly. Because of the society in which Hester lived, she deserved to be punished for her sin. However, under her circumstances, Hester deserved a lesser punishment.

When Hester became involved with Reverend Dimmesdale, she had not seen her husband for 2 years. Most believed Hester’s husband was dead at sea and would never return. This fact alone lessens the severity of Hester’s adulterous act. In addition, as Chillingworth admits in the story, Hester was forced into her marriage with her husband. Her husband was much older than her, and she was never in love with him to begin with. This explains why Hester had no emotional ties to her supposedly dead husband. Under Hester’s special circumstances, her punishment should not have been as severe as a typical adulterous’ punishment.

By sentencing Hester to a lifetime punishment, the Puritan officials left no room for Hester’s change or improvement. It should be possible to carry out her punishment, then ask for forgiveness, and then eventually live a normal life. However, Hester was forced to live through her old age still paying for a crime she committed in her youth. In the story Hester’s “A” eventually is known to stand for able instead of adultery, but nevertheless, Hester still feels the weight of its shame. Hester is even buried under a tombstone engraved with the scarlet letter “A”. During the course of the story, Hester becomes a humble, charitable woman, yet was still forced to wear the scarlet letter. A lifetime sentence was too harsh of a punishment for Hester Pyrnne.

Although Hester Prynne did committed adultery with Reverend Dimmesdale, she did not deserve to wear the scarlet letter for the rest of her life. Hester should have been punished, just not so harshly. She committed a crime against a husband that she never loved, and who was believed to be dead. In addition, she demonstrated a change in lifestyle that should have been recognized. In conclusion, Hester Pyrnne’s punishment of wearing the scarlet letter was too harsh.

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