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In "Crime and Punishment" (74-75), Johnson focuses on the psychological anguish of being 'banished' from the "hearts and minds" of the community that Hester faces when she chooses to live on outskirts of society and does not seek to join the less judgmental Indians. (courtesy of Greenwood Press)

[NOTE: Numbers in parentheses in Johnson's text refer to the Signet Classic edition of The Scarlet Letter (1959) ]
"BANISHMENT
The psychological focus of the novel can be seen in the narrator's treatment of the punishment of banishment. Historically, the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay frequently condemned 'criminals' to be banished, a sentence often tantamount to death, for to be banished from the colony would mean having to survive alone in utter wilderness unless one could find the way to Rhode Island, as Roger Williams did, or to Maine, New York, or Pennsylvania, not easily done without assistance. How could one person, utterly alone, find enough food or adequate shelter? The other alternative, which the narrator mentions as an option for Hester, was to find and join the native American Indians. But Hester is not actually banished, even though she is forced to move to the outskirts of Boston. Yet her punishment is a form of psychological banishment from the heart and sympathy and activities of the community. She is in the community but not of it. The narrator details the effect on her life: ceaseless curiosity of others, who regard her as a freak, the circle of isolation that always surrounds her, the friendlessness of her life. The narrator writes of her banishment from the sympathy of the community, even after seven years, as if it had been a death sentence:
Her face, so long familiar to the townspeople, showed the marble quietude which they were accustomed to behold there. it was like a mask; or, rather, like the frozen calmness of a dead woman's features, owing this dreary resemblance to the fact that Hester was actually dead, in respect to any claim of sympathy, and had departed out of the world with which she still seemed to mingle." (213)



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