Historical Accuracy: The Scarlet Letter

Janna DiBartolo
Grade: 91

The migration of the Puritans to the New World marked the beginning of a settlement in New England (Andrews 1). When America won its independence from Britain, Puritanism became a distant and different form of religion than the rest of the nation practiced (Ruland 9). Puritans were always trying to find a new order of society based on the new covenant of man and the new relation between religion and law (14). American literature often depicts the events that happened in our country's past through its novels. The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathanial Hawthorne, is an accurate portrayal of the Puritan social and religious life in New England during the 17th century.
The Puritans made many contributions to the history of America's past. They set aside rules for people to abide by and set certain limitations on what is accepted in society. Puritans were known as men with strong minds and assertive dispositions. They had very well formed opinions regarding their religion and social life as well. The Puritans always valued their moral and spiritual advice and set limitations on everything else. They reinforced commitment to doctrine or utility; the need to do or enjoy something that leaves them better for the experience (Ruland 19). The Puritan civilization's commitment to spiritual meditation, cut the colonies off from imaginative excitement (18). They believed that everyone either found salvation or damnation in the end (19). In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne was believed to have found her damnation after committing her "sin" of adultery, being impregnated by another man while

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being married to another. Puritans were constantly examining their innermost feelings and always needed to be reassured that they were being sufficiently pious or godly (Smith 1007). Hester Prynne was accused of failing to examine her innermost feelings for if she had, she would have known she was not being pious or godly in her actions and decisions. An individual's election and damnation was always being questioned in Puritan society (Ruland 17). Hester had made her decisions and her actions were the business of everyone in the town. They seemed to be the ones to decide whether or not she was to be condemned for her deeds. The relation between private destiny and predestined purpose was also questioned by the Puritans (Ruland, 17). Predestination was the belief that God had already chosen an individual's direction in their afterlife, which could not be altered (Streissguth 28).
Ideas that were common in England during the 17th century were not re-created in New England when the Puritans migrated (Hall 5). "No saints' days or Christmas, no weddings or church ales, nor sacred places, nor relics or ex-votos, no "churching" after childbirth, no godparents or maypoles, no fairy tales, no dancing on Sabbath, no carnival" (Hall 5). These were said to be few of the many strict rules and regulations the Puritans had to heed. The Scarlet Letter depicts a very strict society when it discusses the matters of Hester Prynne's punishments, nor were there any indications of a lively social life in the book. The power of Satan was impending, or so the Puritans thought (Andrews 81). Terror became aroused by the power of Satan, inspired by the covenant with God. The fear of Satan and the devil was illustrated in The Scarlet Letter when the town talked about Hester Prynne's daughter, Pearl. She was born out of "sin," and no-one in the town knew her father. Since her mother had committed the crime of adultery, Pearl was always said to have been a "devil's child" or "a child of Satan himself."

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Sometimes without giving them reason, Pearl was criticized and ridiculed. Many people were scared of her very presence, for they believed she had a bond with the power of Satan himself (Hawthorne).
The religion of the Puritans was embedded into their everyday lives from birth until death. Religion sometimes determined how an individual thought of their own parents or their children (Hall 3). It added fearfulness to life for people believed that if they did not practice their religion accordingly, the faith of God's providence would not be reassured (3). The New England people of the 17th century were courageous and very loyal to religious convictions (Andrews 81).