The Climactic Presence of the Scaffold
Ever since the days of old, public condemnation was an occurrence that the public always enjoyed attending. From the guillotine to the gallows there was always some way to condemn a person for his or her sins. The scaffold, used by Puritans around the 17th century, was used to depict the foulest of criminals. To be upon the scaffold in front of the community was to be the worst of the worst in the eyes of the public. A person could be put upon the scaffold for a number of different reasons, some so petty as simple thievery, some for murder, and even some for adultery. In The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne chooses the scaffold to show powerful differences and similarities. Each scaffold scene he uses in the book foreshadows the next and brings greater understanding of the novel. Through the symbolism of public condemnation, the scaffold, Hawthorne illustrates the destructive power of unconfessed sins.
The first scaffold scene set the stage for the book. It portrayed Hester Prynne being condemned by the Public, for committing adultery. Head puritan men instead of condemning her to death, were persuaded into letting her live among the public on one condition, wearing a large letter A symbolizing her sin, adultery. Her letter that she made and wore was described as, "the letter A, in scarlet, fantastically embroidered with gold thread on her bosom!"(61) Making her do this was a worse punishment than death. When she was up on the scaffold she would have most likely of wanted to die, simply because the scaffold was the most degrading spot to be in at the time. Hawthorne chose to use this scaffold scene to represent the true beginning of the novel and how harsh the Puritans judged their people.