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The Scarlett Letter: Isolation Due to Evil

The final bell rings. You and your peers dash down the halls to meet up with friends and talk about how the day went, gossiping away. Caught up in this wonderful frenzy, you hardly notice the one girl you used to talk to, walks quietly and alone, on by. You

remember that she had seemed so polite and pleasurable to be around, until she did something unspeakable to your best friend. Soon, like wildfire, the whole school knew what she had done, and people eventually ostracized her from their societies. What did this girl do to become so excluded, and what subconscious, almost unspoken verdict was made to decide this as her punishment? The best explanation is that it is a natural tendency for us as humans to shun those whom we see as too different, or those who commit an unacceptable act of what we personally define as evil. This is seen constantly. A prime example is from a great American classic novel, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. In The Scarlet Letter, by the same author, the society of the Puritan town of Salem excludes anyone who is in any way deviant of their own ways and decrees them as evil. Hester Prynne was excluded from society socially and mentally because of her judged evil, and she paid for it heavily.

After Hester Prynne’s public shaming, she is virtually forced to move to the outskirts of the village, in a small cottage near the ocean that was “. . . not in close vicinity to any other habitation . . . ” (78) This showed the reader that the village people did not particularly want her around, nor did she want to face them. Possibly in attempt to redeem herself to the village peoples, she would often help the poor and sick. But, they “ . . . often reviled the hand that was stretched forth to succor them.” (82) To all levels of society, it seemed anything but stitch work from those sinful hands was vile and to be looked down upon. Whenever Hester would walk through a crowd, a clearing was made for her, as if she had plague. People judged her constantly, sometimes without even saying a word. Hester’s physical isolation was directly from the society and from her declared evil.

Hester Prynne suffered severe social as well as mental isolation because of this sin. She often felt lonely, and knew that the only person she had in the world was her little Pearl. Sometimes she questioned even whether Pearl was her child or not. She says at one point in the novel that she does not know what connects her to the world, and that she did not feel a part of it. She was an outsider, looking into that world as an alien. From the solitary anguish of her new life, Hester felt like she had developed an acute awareness of others. She thought that “the scarlet letter has endowed her with a new sense…it gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in others hearts.” (83) Sometimes what she felt like she had been told by this new sense shocked and scared her. To Hester, “…there was nothing else so awful and so loathsome as this sense. It perplexed as well as shocked her…”(84) This lead her to think she could not be the only one guilty of sin, and that others must have been concealing theirs. This mental isolation caused Hester to grow more and accept her scarlet letter, although the pain of it would never fully diminish.

Just as the girl in school was shun from the crowd because of her declared evil, Hester Prynne was isolated from her society because she did what they had deemed as evil. She suffered powerful physical and mental anguish, that at times caused her to question her own humanity. Society has a powerful grip on the individual, and what is considered to be evil by each will infinitely differ.