The Scarlet Letter

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

The Scarlet Letter Themes

Themes and Colors
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
The Occult Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Scarlet Letter, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Sin

The Puritans believed people were born sinners. Puritan preachers depicted each human life as suspended by a string over the fiery pit of hell. As a result, the Puritans maintained strict watch over themselves and their fellow townspeople, and sins such as adultery were punishable by death. Hester is spared execution only because the Puritans of Boston decided it would benefit the community to transform her into a "living sermon against sin." But just as…

(read full theme analysis)

As an adulterer, Hester has broken Puritan society's harsh and strict rules. Puritan society demanded conformity because it considered any breach of that conformity a threat to its security and its religion. Hester doesn't conform and she suffers the consequences: the townspeople punish, shun, and humiliate her. The town seeks to use Hester as an example to frighten any other would-be nonconformists from breaking the strict moral rules of Puritanism. Yet Hester's unshakable faith in…

(read full theme analysis)

The Scarlet Letter presents a critical, even disdainful, view of Puritanism. The narrator depicts Puritan society as drab, confining, unforgiving, and narrow-minded that unfairly victimizes Hester. In the scene in which Hester is released from prison, the narrator describes the town police official as representing the "whole dismal severity of the Puritanical code of law," which fused religion with law. In contrast, he describes Hester as a woman marked by "natural dignity…force of character…[and]…

(read full theme analysis)
Get the entire The Scarlet Letter LitChart as a printable PDF.
The scarlet letter.pdf.medium

In The Scarlet Letter, nature stands in contrast to Puritanism. Where Puritanism is merciless and rigid, nature is forgiving and flexible. This contrast is made clear from the very first page, when the narrator contrasts the "black flower" of the prison that punishes sin with the red rose bush that he imagines forgives those sentenced to die. The theme of nature continues with the forest outside Boston, which is described as an "unchristianized, lawless…

(read full theme analysis)

The first association most people have with the town of Salem, Massachusetts is the infamous "Salem Witch Trials." Set in and around Boston, The Scarlet Letter also deals with the specter of witchcraft and the occult. But the novel treats witchcraft and the occult sympathetically. By associating Pearl with other outcasts like Mistress Hibbins, Hawthorne suggests that witches were created by, and victims of, the excessively strict Puritan society. Puritan society created the witches…

(read full theme analysis)