Johnson demonstrates that the intolerant Puritans punish and banish those that are different
In "A Literary Analysis of The Scarlet Letter" (7), Johnson demonstrates
that the intolerant Puritans punish and banish those that are different, including
the drunken, vagrant Indians as well as Hester and Pearl. The Puritan children
play at taking scalps and target Hester and Pearl with their cruel mockery.
(courtesy of Greenwood Press).
[NOTE: Numbers in parentheses in Johnson's text refer to the Signet Classic edition
of The Scarlet Letter (1959) ]
"The narrator makes the reader aware of this secret, subtle intolerance early in the novel with stories of the Puritan community's suspicious intolerance of human nature, of those they see as different from themselves. This becomes dramatically clear in the harsh punishments imposed for trivial, natural human behavior:
It might be that a sluggish bond-servant, or an undutiful child, whom his parents had given over to civil authority, was to be corrected at the whipping-post. It might be that an Antinomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox religionist, was to be scourged out of the town, or an idle and vagrant Indian, whom the white man's firewater had made riotous about the streets, was to be driven with stripes into the shadow of the forest. It might be, too, that a witch, like old Mistress Hibbins, the bitter-tempered widow of the magistrate, was to die upon the gallows. (57)
The Puritan harshness of the community is reflected even in the play of the little children who imitate the actions of their elders.
In marked contrast to Pearl, these children play at 'scourging Quakers; or taking scalps in a sham-fight with the Indians; or scaring one another with freaks of imitative witchcraft' (96).
Because they despise so many human traits, while at the same time failing to recognize those same passionate traits in themselves, Hester, always wearing the badge of adulterous love, becomes a target for their cruelty. It is almost as if the community can better deny the passion of their own nature by projecting it onto Hester and despising her for it. Even though, as we have seen, Hester perceptively senses the lust in the heart of even the most pious man of God and the purest maiden, the community acts as if she alone has passion in her heart:
Clergymen paused in the street to address words of exhortation that brought a crowd, and its mingled grin and frown, around the poor, sinful woman. If she entered a church, trusting to share the Sabbath smile of the Universal Father, it was often her mishap to find herself the text of the discourse. (88)"