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The Scarlet Letter - Public and Private Atonement

            In the novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the letter A is given to the characters Hester and Dimmesdale. According to the law of the Puritan society and the strict interpretation of the Bible, adultery is one of the deadliest sins that led to the deadliest punishment - execution or corporal punishment. The letter A came to symbolize different things for each character. For Hester, the Scarlet Letter symbolizes her adultery and for Dimmesdale, it is a reminder of his hidden sin. The characters are given different punishments corresponding to their symbolisms. Hester's punishment is to face the public with her guilt, and Dimmesdale has the punishment of hiding his guilt from the public. Hester became stronger from her punishment, but Dimmesdale becomes destructed from his sin. The Scarlet Letter portrays the idea that guilt is harsher and more destructive than public punishments. .
             Hester is persecuted on the scaffold when she is released from prison due to her adultery. She is referred to as "malefactresses" and "baggage" by the women in her town. Despite the community's harassment, she is able to stay steady by accepting her punishment, "Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped" (Hawthorne 40). Although she has a brief moment of unsteadiness on the scaffold, an imagery of her childhood life, Hester concludes that she can go through any obstacles after the experience on the scaffold; her public confession made her to become a stronger individual, which supports the idea that public persecution is not as detrimental as private suffering. .
             Hester, becoming the stronger individual, shows how she accepts the punishment she receives. Her attitude towards her punishment is described in the narration, "She never battled with the public, but submitted uncomplainingly to its worst usage; she made no claim upon it, in requital for what she suffered; she did not weigh upon its sympathies.

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