Social Sensitivity

The subject of The Scarlet Letter, adultery, is a sensitive topic. Hawthorne focuses on the effect of adultery on individuals and on the community. Though no character discusses the actions of Hester and Arthur in explicit detail, the subject of adultery nevertheless is unavoidable if any meaningful examination of this novel is to be made. Hawthorne does not condemn his sinners; although they realize they must make amends for their sin, they are presented quite sympathetically. The villain of the novel, Roger Chillingsworth, is the one character intent on exposing the sinners. It may be easy for readers to misunderstand Hawthorne’s point regarding sin and forgiveness: he does not really excuse sin, but he does criticize the heartless society that drives people such as Hester and Arthur to seek fulfillment for their emotional needs outside accepted social boundaries.

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