In the novel, The Scarlet Letter, the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, draws attention to the negative qualities pertaining to the Puritan lifestyles and beliefs of the 17th century. He illustrates this by describing "the city upon a hill", materialism, and the hypocritical nature of the Puritan society.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was raised in Salem, Massachusetts, and was of Puritan descent. Witnessing the downfall of his society, he thought there was a need for social reform. As a result of this, he wrote The Scarlet Letter to show that nothing benefited from puritan ideology.
In the introduction to the novel, Hawthorne describes a Puritan, theoretical Utopian society. This "city upon a hill" was intended to exemplify the ideal structure England should encompass. However, Hawthorne informs the reader of the first buildings constructed, which were a cemetery and a prison. "The founders of a new colony allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison." (35) Here it is evident that upon coming to the new colony, Puritans show that sin and death are inevitable. This theory contrasts the "city upon a hill" philosophy. .
One of the strong Puritan beliefs was that of weaned affection. This was to gradually push aside material possessions for a more spiritual life. Although it was imperative that all Puritans follow this law, Hawthorne gives the reader a glimpse of what materialistic society they really were. " It had indeed in which fragments of broken glass were plentifully intermixed it glittered and sparkled as if diamonds had flung against it by the double handful. The brilliancy might have befitted Aladdin's palace, rather than the mansion of a grave old Puritan ruler." (71) Here the reader is shown the insincerity of the ruler of the Puritans. It is also evident that although the citizens are forbidden from materialism, their hierarchy indulges in it.