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 herself, her love for Dimmesdale, and her devotion to her daughter empower her to resist and transcend enforced Puritan conformity.
In general in The Scarlet Letter, the conflict between individuality and conformity is also a battle between appearance and reality. Because the Puritan government is so harsh, all Puritans are always concerned about looking like conformists to best fit in. This means that they hide the reality of their human flaws, frailties, and sins in order to avoid punishment. The result are secrets that are the embodiment of the disconnect between private individual reality and the need to maintain the appearance of public conformity. And though keeping secrets provide a short-term solution for the sinner to avoid punishment, the novel argues that repression of the individual behind a mask of secret-keeping conformity will ultimately warp and destroy a person's soul.
Individuality and Conformity ThemeTracker
Individuality and Conformity Quotes in The Scarlet Letter
"Yes, I hate him!" repeated Hester, more bitterly than before. "He betrayed me! He has done me worse wrong than I did him!"
"Not now, dear child," answered Hester. "But in days to come he will walk hand in hand with us. We will have a home and fireside of our own; and thou shalt sit upon his knee; and he will teach thee many things, and love thee dearly. Thou wilt love him; wilt thou not?"
"And will he always keep his hand over his heart?" inquired Pearl.
“Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl!" whispered her mother. “We must not always talk in the market-place of what happens to us in the forest.