The Crucible and Scarlet Letter
The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller and The Scarlet Letter written by Nathaniel Hawthorne are both examples of how the society can be caught up in upholding their traditions and beliefs such that they are willing to subject those who are caught breaking the law are punished in any means necessary. In both stories, the society takes the mandate of punishing those who have committed unforgivable acts. In the case of The Crucible, anyone who practiced witchcraft was severely punished and those who were accused did all that they could to avoid facing punishment. Unfortunately, this included betraying their neighbors and friends and presenting false witness in court. In The Scarlet Letter, anyone who was caught in adultery or was suspected of having committed the crime was humiliated publicly and isolated from the rest of the community as a form of punishment. The two authors show the judgmental view of the society though they each present different ways of handling the situation.
A common theme in both stories is that of sin and its consequences on the sinner. The sin of witchcraft in the Crucible and Adultery in the Scarlet Letter were serious in the eyes of the law and they were heavily punished. In both stories, religion dictated morality and the rules that the people ought to abide by (Miller and Blakesley 2). Anyone who was caught breaking these rules was thought to go against God. The people of Salem associated witchcraft with the devil and they believed that witches were to be hanged. The society was adamant in enforcing its rules on the people. Punishment in this case meant death and there was no way of escaping. Despite their innocence, the people named by Betty and Abigail confessed to sins which they did not commit because of fear. Adultery was considered a grave sin in Boston and anyone who was unlucky enough to be caught in the act was humiliated publicly.
One of the differences between the two stories is how the different societies dealt with sin. In the Scarlet letter, the sinner was shown mercy by being allowed to live albeit in isolation. This was not the case in the crucible where the sinners (witches) faced death. The puritans did not show any mercy even on their followers. They believed that they had to be pure in the eyes of God and anyone who went against this was punished. Today, religion is a personal belief and the society does not have to conform to the norms and beliefs of any one religion, at least in areas where there is freedom of religion. It is no longer used to define morality and there are less crimes punishable by death and isolation. Things have indeed changed for the better over the years. Were it not so, so many people would have faced death and many more would be living in isolation.
Judgment of self and the society, which leads to intolerance, is another similarity in the two stories. The society is ready to execute judgment on sinners and they it will do so in accordance with the law. Perhaps the worst judgment is self judgment where different characters are filled with guilt because of what they have done or what they have failed to do. In the Crucible, Proctor finally confesses his adulterous relationship with Abigail. This not only earns forgiveness from his wife but he is also relieved. He refuses any advancement from Abigail despite her numerous attempts to seduce him. This is not the case with Hester’s lover, Dimmesdale who does not acknowledge Hester until their final arrangements to leave Boston are made. He lives in guilt because of the depression and this ultimately leads to his death.
Despite having to wear the scarlet letter throughout her stay in Boston, Hester does not let this affect her life. She realizes that she has to live and take car of herself ad her child. She does not judge herself and this is shown by the way she leads her life. She shows compassion to those who need it despite the fact that no one showed her mercy when she needed it the most. Her willingness to let go of the past is what makes her stronger and enables her to endure the struggles that come her way. The same cannot be said of Elizabeth, who did not forgive her husband for having an affair with Abigail. Had she forgiven him earlier, it would have changed a lot since, John would not have confessed of his adulterous relationship in a court of law. In Salem religion was used to justify almost every injustice (Hawthorne and Colacurcio xvi). This is clearly shown in both stories since they both justify their reasons for punishing sin on religion. Self judgment seems worse than societal judgment. Unlike some form of punishments which have changed overtime, self judgment continues to affect people even today. Many people judge themselves according to society’s expectations, not realizing that they cannot please everybody.
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