Puritan society of the colonial era was one of the most demanding and strict when dealing with one's peers. In a constant struggle to be faithful to God and to perform good works that would ensure status as Elect, members of Puritan society faced much pressure to be exemplary citizens. However, not all of these Puritans were able to follow all of the demanding moral codes and procedures all of the time. It is human nature to sin, as no humans are perfect, but the degree of sin is measured individually. Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter suffered immensely for her sin as an adulteress, and her child from this sin, Pearl, suffered as well. But none suffered as did the secret father of Pearl, Arthur Dimmesdale, the town reverend who kept his secret bottled inside for seven years. The torment he endured from Roger Chillingworth, Hester's anonymous husband, caused the destruction of his character and inevitable death. The story dealt a great deal with the idea of sin, the punishment that comes from it, and the repentance that some undergo to cleanse themselves of that sin. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the author uses the scaffold scenes to depict the idea of private versus public sin. .
The first scaffold scene establishes the tone for the novel. Here, Hester Prynne is taken before her Puritan town from the prison. On her bosom she bears the scarlet A for "adultery" and in her arms she holds the creation of her sin, her daughter Pearl. She ascends the steps of the scaffold alone, and stands where all eyes are upon her and the .
flaming letter upon her breast. It is here that for the first time Hester is publicly recognized for her sin and must accept the burden that will now weigh down upon her for the rest of her life. Also, it is here that Reverend John Wilson struggles in vain to extract the secret that Hester withholds as to the identity of the father of her child.