The subject of this essay is Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and the conflict between the individual and society. It would seem 'sin' is the main topic of this novel, and the manner in which the sinner becomes isolated or excommunicated from society. The problem with sin in Puritan New England was in accordance with the doctrine of John Calvin, which holds that all of mankind is totally depraved. Every person is a sinner. However, God has predestined only certain individuals for salvation, and no human being knows for certain who will be saved and who will suffer damnation. Only God knows a soul's ultimate destiny. A person's salvation is not accomplished by good works, but only by God's Divine Grace. Salvation is a gift, which no human being is worthy of meriting.
Nevertheless, the self-righteous are always ready to throw stones at those having what appears to be a real problem concerning their 'sinful conduct.' Joseph Schwartz states: "From Hawthorne's point of view the Puritan way of life, their denial of civil liberty for others, and their theology combined to give an unfavorable aspect to the national character. It created a social system, based upon an identification of law and religion, that trammeled itself as it did the people who lived under it" (Schwartz 46). Such is the situation in The Scarlet Letter in which all persons are guilty of a secret sin. This theme runs through the novel. The problems of sin and guilt are threaded throughout the fabric of the novel. Society is severe with its sinners, and Christian compassion and mercy are not in evidence.
HESTER PRYNNE AND THE SCARLET LETTER 'A'
In Chapter 2, Hester Prynne is described: "On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold-thread, appeared the letter A. . . . And never had Hester Prynne appeared more lady-like, in the antique interpretation of the term, than as s...