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Excerpts from chapters from Understanding The Scarlet Letter:

Excerpts from chapters from Understanding The Scarlet Letter: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents by Claudia Durst Johnson (courtesy of Greenwood Press)

In "The Scarlet Letter and the Puritans," (pp. 36-37), Johnson reveals how the powerful political and religious figures try to control where Hester and Pearl live and who should have custody of the child.
"The heavy hand of authority can be seen in the fact that the highest officials in the land -- the governor, several legislators and judges in addition to all the town's ministers -- take an interest in the birth of her child. Hester must also get permission from these same people to live just outside the town; and even then she finds that one of the most powerful men in New England is planning to see that her child is taken from her. When she visits the governor's hall to plead that the child not be taken from her, Bellingham speaks of himself and old Reverend Wilson as 'we, that are of authority and influence' (110). The children are disciplined strictly by the authoritative parent, often being whipped even when they have done nothing wrong -'as a wholesome regimen for the growth and promotion of all childish virtues' (93) and just because, as the Bible says, if you spare the rod, you'll spoil the child. In the same spirit, the old men of the community treat the ordinary citizens as if they were children, meddling in their private lives, inflicting humiliating and cruel corporal punishments, and even prying into their thoughts.

These traits of intractable and severe old age bring the leaders of the community into direct conflict with Hester and Pearl and cause them to stamp out everything youthful, creative, and passionate" (36-37).

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