The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, addresses an issue which has not only existed in the past, but permeated through time. In this American classic, Hawthorne depicts a narrow-minded society which blindly follows particular standards and rules without individual inputs. He clearly singles out the open-minded, and possibly the more intelligent, by contrasting radical beliefs against the traditional. In addition, he illustrates the price to which those with a more liberal approach to life pay as a result of their aptitude.
In the novel, Hawthorne gradually releases information regarding the protagonist, Hester Prynne. He initially divulges that Prynne has committed an unspeakable sin, and not until the end of the novel does he fully disclose Prynne's sin. Prynne, an dweller of a Puritan village during the early settlement period from England, has defied the conventional standards of the rigid and austere Puritan society in an effort to follow her heart and pursue self-interest, as opposed to the meaningless standards. Consequently, Prynne serves a period in prison, and upon her return, she isolates herself in a secluded cottage ostracized from the mainstream life. Hester's child, the product of her sinful act, symbolizes the extent to which the cruelty and narrow-mindedness of the town affects an innocent creature. Though innocent, Hester's child (Pearl) experiences the critical tones and gestures of the town since the day of her birth. The minister of the town reveals that he too had participated in Prynne's sinful act, and requests everyone to open their mind's horizons in an effort to relate to him and Prynne. Being the highly regarded and admired man of the town, people begin to accept his words and Prynne's act. Ironically, near the end of the novel, those women who had denigrated Prynne turn to her for advice for similar feelings which they had suppressed as a result of the dogmatic lifestyle.