Social and Religion Values in 'The Scarlett Letter'
There is a scene in The Scarlet Letter at the minute 01:02 that shows a conversation among a group of four men. They are the elders of the Massachusetts state government and are in charge of the judicature of Hester Prynne. In the conversation, they talk about how unrepentant Hester are. She has slept with another man while her husband is gone and then gets pregnant. She is not sorry about it at all, however. She is not even willing to mention the name of the father of her baby, even though the elders have forced her to. In that scene, the elders also mention that Hester is lucky that they do not beat her publicly.
This movie, in some way, reflects how people in the era of the movie lived. The movie’s setting of time was around 1660 when European people migrated to America in order to find a new home. Their purpose of migrating was to run away from the church that handcuffed and controlled every aspect of their life. They came to the land of America bringing a hope to build a new life without boundaries. Although practically they tried to release themselves from the church, they still had strong beliefs in religion. To the land of America, they brought convictions that the European church used to have. Besides convictions, they also brought beliefs in morality, supernaturalism and superstition. They inserted those values to the society of the state they were building. As what we can see from the movie, social values and restrictions were distinctly applied at that time. Social punishment is also obtained. We can see it from how they react toward Hester Prynne, the main character of The Scarlet Letter. Hester sleeps with a man, who is not her husband, and gets pregnant. What she has done is totally against moral values and religion. So, she is punished by both the elders and the society. She is put in prison for months as a punishment. Also, the elders put her in prison in order to make her speak a word about the name of the father of her baby. Not only by the elders, is she also punished by the people around her: neighbors, acquaintances, and friends. They mock her for not having morality. This shows that she gets a social punishment. Besides that, she is also forced to wear the A symbol on her clothes, which is a sign that she is sinful. She is also nearly punished to death publicly. Before the punishment is attempted, however, Reverend Dimmesdale finally confesses that he is the father of Hester’s baby. The punishment was turned on him afterward, although the punishment did not really take place finally.
Besides firmly holding social and religion values, the society in The Scarlet Letter also believe in superstition and supernaturalism. They believe that witch exists and needs to be extinguished. The person who is believed to be a witch in The Scarlet Letter is Hester’s neighbor whose name is Harriet Hibbon. Harriet, then, is punished with the same punishment that Hester Prynne and Reverend Dimmesdale get. They three are about to be hanged in front of the citizens of Massachusetts right before the Indians attack their state.
After watching The Scarlet Letter, I realize that American people and the elders in this movie reflect the society in America around 1660. Morality, supernaturalism, and superstition were strongly applied in American people’s daily activities around that time. However, as the time went by, these values faded away from the American society, especially the religion values. It is because modernity eliminates values that are not suitable anymore with their rhythm of technology development. Therefore, it is not strange to see that nowadays American people live so freely and ignorantly, which is so much different with the society in the 1660. Society punishment is not valid anymore because society agrees that what is not good to do is good to do. The example of what is not good to do is good to do is free sex, which is usually done by young people. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne and Reverend Dimmesdale are punished because they sleep together meanwhile they are not married. They get a very hard social and law punishment, then. Surprisingly, if the punishment they get is applied to the young generation of America, the society will think that it is ridiculous because free sex is a common thing now. Social and religion values have faded away. Modernity and technology have created a free liberal life, which is so much different with the values that the ancestors of America brought at the first time they came to the land.
This movie, in a particular way, reminds me of one of my old friends. Back then, I had a friend in Senior High School who got pregnant even though she was not married yet. Her name is Lily (not her real name). When I met Lily for the first time, she had already given birth a boy. However, the little boy was admitted as her brother, not her son, because she was ashamed. She thought no one knew meanwhile everyone had already known. Teachers did not want to get involved. However, the society got so much involved. What Lily had done was against social and religion values. Almost all of my friends mocked Lily and talked behind her back. They did not want to get close to her because they thought that being her friend was shameful. Lily had no friends back then and was all alone.
We could not, however, apply the punishment that Hester Prynne and Reverend Dimmesdale get in the movie toward my friend, Lily. It is because the values of the society and the setting of time and place are different. Despite of this fact, at least my society have a social punishment toward a sinful person although the punishment is in a different form. It is better than living in a place where morality, social, and religion values downgrade.