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Social Deviance in American Society

            The freedom to think for oneself is an essential quality of human nature. To lack this freedom is to lack morality, individuality, and overall humanity. Today, our ability to be freethinkers is constantly being tested; our lives are assaulted on a daily basis by relentless advertising and shameless consumerism. In the 17th Century, religion was the driving force that challenged people’s freedom of thought. .
             The Puritans of the 1630s added a new element of religious and social intolerance to America, expanding on the blueprint created by the Pilgrims. Known for their strict, repressive society, the Puritans barred all forms of deviation within their community, as described in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Set in the mid-1600s, The Scarlet Letter epitomizes the religious intolerance of Puritan society. By the mid-1800s, however, the religious fervor that had been so prevalent two centuries ago was gone, replaced by the ideals of Transcendentalism. Henry David Thoreau helped to propel this movement, expressing his own deviance through writing. “Civil Disobedience” argues against the legitimacy of government and laws, and is Thoreau’s most famous (and radical) essay. As a result of its deviant nature, however, the essay was largely ignored by the public. Both Thoreau and Hawthorne illustrate this social deviance and society’s intolerance of it, a reoccurring theme in the Puritan world of the 1600s and an inevitable result of the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-1800s. .
             In Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the Puritan community of Boston essentially creates Hester Prynne’s deviation. The Puritans view sin as a danger to the community, and Hester is ostracized for her sin and thus alienated from her community. It is this alienation that acts as the catalyst for Hester’s deviation. Hester is able to think freely in her isolation, unbound from the restraints previously imposed on her by Puritan society.

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