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”The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne – Code of Ethics

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  • Pages: 3
  • Word count: 533
  • Category: Hawthorne

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In the novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne uses her personal code of ethics to make decisions that influence her situation. Although she carefully makes these decisions she ultimately faces conflicts that complicate her state. Her code of ethics, which consist of responsibility and staying true to her word, are very prominent throughout the novel and impact the way she is able to live her life.

Responsibility is the act of being accountable for ones decisions and actions, the very basis upon which Hester starts her motherhood. She takes responsibility for her sins, accepting any punishment given to her and remaining in that town for the duration of that sentence. “Here, she said to herself, had been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment…Hester Prynne, therefore, did not flee.” (Hawthorne, pg. 74) Hester is ostracized from the community, receiving glares of disgust and scorn when she steps foot in the colony. Living in a small cottage in the outskirts of the colony Hester is able to escape these unforgiving responses. Although she escapes mockery she must bear the consequences of her decision, living in solitude with only her young daughter to keep her company. Hester could have fled from the colony and started a new life in a town where no one knew her; she instead remains and lives a somber life. Hester’s choice to remain in the town where she committed her adulterous sins is the first glimpse the reader receives of her personal code of ethics.

Loyalty, the act of being allegiant to a person, is one of Hester’s personal ethics made prominent early in the novel. Hester makes a promise to Dimmesdale to keep the secret that he is the father of her daughter. Mr. Reverend Wilson cries out “Speak out the name! That, and thy repentance, may avail to take the scarlet letter off thy breast.” (Hawthorne, pg. 61) in hopes of enticing Hester to reveal the father. Hester remains faithful to her pledge and responds “I will not speak!” (Hawthorne, pg. 61) Although the desire to take off the scarlet letter may be present in Hester she responds by means of her ethics and is sentenced to wear the letter for the remainder of her earthly existence. Hester’s choice to remain true has her scoffed at by many of the colonists, even young children. Because of this derision Hester chooses to remain primarily in the outskirts of town, spending much of her time in the woods, an area most dare not go. The forest is the sole place Hester can peacefully visit. Hester’s loyalty to her promises greatly impacts and influences her decisions and the way she proceeds to live.

Hester is perceived solely as a sinner and disgrace to her colony. As the novel progresses the reader learns of her responsibility and ability to stay true to her word. She proves to society that she fully accepts the consequences of her sin through her strong personal code of ethics. While her ethics create conflict Hester is able to combat these problems resulting in both positive and negative influences on her life.

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