The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a classic novel that tells the story of Hester Prynne, a woman who is convicted of adultery and must wear a scarlet letter “A” on her chest as punishment. The novel explores the themes of sin, redemption, and morality.
One theme that is explored in the novel is the difference between moral law and natural law. Moral law is based on societal norms and personal ethics, while natural law is based on the laws of nature.
Hester Prynne violates the moral law when she commits adultery. She is punished by being forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her chest. However, she does not violate the natural law. Her affair does not harm anyone physically and it is not against the laws of nature.
Hawthorne suggests that the two types of law are not always in agreement. Hester Prynne is punished by society for breaking the moral law, but she does not deserve to be punished according to the natural law. This leads to the question of whether or not society should always follow the moral law, even when it goes against the natural law.
When suggesting that Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter to investigate the tension between Moral and Natural law, we must first assume that he embraced the notion of absolute moral laws. An extension of Leo Levy’s assertion that Moral laws are greater than natural law may be made using definitions of nature and character offered by Seymour Katz on which natural law and moral law are based.
According to Hawthorne, character is “the force of an individual’s will” and nature is “the power of circumstances.” The combination of the two provides the context in which Hawthorne places Hester Prynne.
When Hester is first seen with the scarlet letter A on her breast, she has already been declared an outcast by society. She is not only an outcast, but also a sinner in the eyes of the Puritans. Hester has committed the ultimate sin, adultery. Because of this, she is forced to wear the scarlet letter as a sign of her shame. The Puritans believe that this will help to deter other sinners from committing adultery.
Despite being shunned by society, Hester does not give up. She continues to live her life and care for her daughter, Pearl. Hester even goes so far as to help the sick and needy, despite the fact that she is not supposed to be doing anything good. In short, Hester embodies the natural law of human nature.
The Puritans, on the other hand, represent the moral law. They are a group of people who believe that they are living in a sin-free society. They follow the rules of their religion to the letter and expect everyone else to do the same. They are not willing to accept anything less than perfection.
As mentioned before, Hawthorne uses the relationship between Moral law and Natural law to explore the idea of absolutes. The Puritans believe in absolutes, while Hester embodies the idea that life is not always black and white. There are gray areas in life and sometimes people have to make difficult choices. Hester is a perfect example of this. She has to make the choice between staying true to her husband or giving into her feelings for Dimmesdale. In the end, she chooses to stay true to her husband, even though it means living a life of isolation.
The Scarlet Letter is a story about the conflict between Moral law and Natural law. Hawthorne uses the characters of Hester Prynne and the Puritans to explore this conflict. Hester embodies the natural law, while the Puritans represent the moral law. The two groups are at odds with each other because they have different beliefs about absolutes. In the end, Hawthorne shows that there is no clear winner in this conflict. Both sides have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Human nature dictates that we must prevent ourselves from any types of immorality and vice in order to remain together as a society. “Moral law is an internalization of societal norms it is acquired through nurture, education, and social experience,” (Katz 5). The character of the older individual is more set and stable, and he is less likely to act outside of his society’s or role’s principles. The natural law simply refers to a state where society cannot impose any rules or laws on us: “It is uncontrolled impulse or potential energy that the individual will expend and express in various ways throughout his life,” (4).
The young person is more likely to stray from the moral law and commit crimes, due to their inexperience.
The scarlet letter is a perfect example of how society reacts when someone breaks the moral law. Hester Prynne, the protagonist, committed adultery and was forced to wear a scarlet A on her chest as punishment. She was shunned by the community and seen as a sinner. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter shows the conflict between the two laws perfectly. Hester goes against her natural impulses and instead chooses to follow the rules of society, even though it causes her much pain and suffering. The Puritans in the novel are an example of a society that strictly follows the moral law, while Hester embodies the idea of natural law.
While the two laws may seem to be at odds with each other, they are actually complementary. “The conflict between the two laws is really a struggle within the individual conscience,” (4). We need both the moral law and the natural law in order to maintain a balance in society. If everyone followed their natural impulses, society would quickly break down into chaos. However, if we strictly followed the moral law, we would be living in a world that is devoid of any passion or creativity. It is only by finding a balance between the two that we can create a harmonious society.