In "The Scarlet Letter", Nathaniel Hawthorne portrays the hypocrisy of the Puritan society of the seventeenth century with the story of the downfall and redemption of Hester Prynne. The hypocritical Puritan society punishes Hester for committing adultery. However, in her own mind, she does not see her actions as a sin because she acts out of love. Furthermore, she redeems herself by turning her offense into a virtue. Through the tale of Hester Prynne, Hawthorne's moral is that the sin is not in adultery, but in the persecution of love by the society.
The Puritan society persecutes Hester Prynne for committing adultery, while the persecutors themselves are guilty of hypocrisy. Hawthorne exposes the true two-faced mind-set of the Puritans through their regard of corporal punishment: "[The] society shall have grown corrupt enough to smile, instead of shuddering at it" (39). Hawthorne inserts his own commentary, averring that the society is "corrupt enough to smile" at Hester's punishment.
He even mentions that it is more common to "shudder" (tremble) at such a scene, rather than view it as a form of entertainment. The author's style is very straightforward in criticizing the Puritan culture. Thus, the Puritan society is hypocritical in punishing Hester Prynne because they themselves are not acting with Christian charity.
In her own mind, Hester Prynne is not guilty of the crime for which she is being punished. To her, love is not a sin, but a right. She is a free soul, and she does not believe that the society's laws are right to punish her for following her heart. Hester's unrelenting love for her fellow adulterer is portrayed in the quote, "'I will not speak!' answered Hester, turning pale as death, but responding to this voice, which she too surely recognized" (47). Here, she...