In the Scarlet Letter, the author sets out the narrative in the Salem port in the 1800s. The author focuses on the lives of the puritans as they first settled in Massachusetts upon their arrival in the United States. The narrative provides a variety of themes such as sin, rejection, gender inequality, and hypocrisy amongst the Puritans. The puritans and their values were eventually consumed by capitalism and financial greed in the 1700s. Sinners or criminals are subjected to public humiliation for their crimes or sins. In Billy Bud, Sailor by Herman Melville, the author provides an account of societal expectations for both men and women.
Politics is seen to be a primary driver of criminal activities such as corruption and fights for power. In Billy Bud, A sailor, Billy Bud is incarcerated as a result of claims that he is the leader of a group of rebels seeking to lead a mutiny against the ship’s commanders. The novel Billy Budd, a sailor in naval warship, is unable to defend himself against accusations that he was leading a team of mutineers. His inability to provide a defense is because of his lack of coherence and ability to speak under duress. Billy struck Claggart n response to the false claims that he was leading a rebellion (Melville, 2009).
Claggart’s claims are false and malicious given that it is evident he is an individual driven by hatred and envy. He is determined to destroy Billy’s reputation as an honest and hardworking individual. He is expressly understood to be a threat to Claggart given that he has exceptional skills, determination, and resilience and is an excellent worker. Furthermore, the challenges faced by hardworking and resilient individuals in succeeding in political environments because of the risk of being labeled as a threat to the existing leaders.
One of the most important questions is the concept of justice and the conviction and execution of Budd. However, Budd is convicted for murder because of striking an officer in a fit of rage resulting in his death in the presence of superior officer. In the Scarlet Letter, it is evident that political change is inevitable. In addition, the text clearly illustrates that resistance to change consumes the parties responsible for resistance against a new political order.
Justice is an interesting concept in both texts and is manifested in a similar manner. There is a high level of bias against women in the Scarlet Letter in the favor of men whereas there is disregard of facts in Billy Bud, A sailor. The author sought to highlight the conflicts of interest between society and individuality. The warship Bellipotent gains Billy from his prior working vessel named the Rights of Man where he was treated with respect and held in high esteem by the captains. This is indicated by the reluctance of the captain of the ship to let go one of his best soldiers. This tussle for a solider illustrates the power held by the society or government, as Billy and the captains are compelled to participate in the war and in doing so they dispense their respect rights and sense of individuality. The term “Bellpotent” is used suggestively by the author given that it means “power of war” (Melville, 2009).
There is a test of the justice system in the hands of captain Vere as he forced to deliver judgment against Billy and the claims made by Claggart. Captain Vere is in a dilemma in delivering a fair judgment based on his conscience and facts presented to him. Vere is an embodiment of social order, stability, and adherence to set out laws and rules in the military capacity as a warship captain. The author notes that individual attempts to change the society or political scene result in failure in the presence of an all powerful government or society. There is a lack of trust amongst the crew of the ship because of paranoia of mutiny. This is also attributed to the strict adherence of set out rules, regulations, and codes of conduct rather than conscience and honor of individuals as a means of maintaining order (Melville, 2009).
The paranoia and mistrust indicated in the text amongst the crewmembers is indicative that evil is pervasive. Evil is illustrated by the presence of individuals such as Claggart who are seemingly irresponsible, full of envy, and without a sense of ethics and morality. He is responsible for Billy’s downfall by misinterpretation of the soup-spilling incident as an intentional act that was drawn from contempt towards him. The Dansker understands the evil in other people, which has enabled him to develop cynicism in his interactions with other crewmembers. The text insinuates that law and evil are interconnected. This is illustrated by the downfall of Billy after he reacts to Claggart’s malicious and false accusations only to be repaid with a death sentence (Melville, 2009).
On the other hand, the Scarlet Letter focuses on the use of public humiliation as a means of punishing individuals for presumed sinful acts. The novel illustrates the difference between the acts of public shaming against private guilt. In the text, adultery is considered as both a crime and a sin, which is only punishable through death by condemnation of both adulterer and adulterer to hanging. The novel focuses on the lives of Hester and Dimmesdale after they commit adultery, which results in her condemnation.
The novel provides an important account of gender bias that is propagated against women. The author illustrates the public shaming acts were inappropriate given that the private guilt was adequate punishment to the involved parties. This also moves the audience towards a debate over the importance of punishment as opposed to forgiveness. Chillingworth is depicted as an arbiter of moral and ethical judgment in the community given that Dimmesdale is tainted with adultery and a party to the crime despite being a religious minister. Chillingworth is receptive and forgiving towards Hester despite her presumably grievous crimes.
This is illustrative of the gender inequality with women being subjected to public humiliation and even death for adultery whereas their male counterparts are treated without any prejudice. His forgiveness towards Hester is informed by his age, deformed state, absence and a yearning for love by a young woman. Chillingworth is self-loathing, which is a basis for his forgiveness towards Hester but a simmering rage and anger for Dimmesdale. Chillingworth understands Dimmesdale to be a man of vigor, enthusiasm, and passion which Hester desires, but is lacking in him.
The Scarlet Letter is symbolic in a variety of ways. It is synonymous with sin with sinner being able to wear it freely. Hester was forced to wear the Letter “A” on her clothing to denote her adulterous nature. It is also noted that this only done against women whereas the reverend Dimmesdale was party to the illicit affair with a married woman. This is indicative of the extent of gender inequality and the objectification of women. Furthermore, Chillingworth seems to feed on Dimmesdale’s guilt and humiliation for his infidelity involving a married woman, Hester.
Hester visualizes the letter imprinted on her clothing as a burden she inherits from the society because of an illicit affair. In addition, this is understood to be a form of community enforced guilt despite the male partner, Reverend Dimmesdale not being subjected to similar acts of public humiliation. However, he has a letter A imprinted upon his flesh given that he has a profound fear over the possible retaliation from the community for his adultery. It becomes evident of the difference between a man who punishes himself as a result of guilt and a woman who publicly confesses and endures widespread suffering as a result of a community effort to punish her for adultery.
The text also indicates the similarities between fanaticism and religiosity. The townspeople can be understood to be fanatics of their puritan ideologies rather than true adherents of Christianity. This is because they fail to subject Reverend Dimmesdale to a similar standard of humiliation who was involved in an illicit affair with Hester. The Scarlet letter moves away from being a sign of shame to one of admiration and ability. The text questions a variety of occurrences such as Hester’s decision to marry Chillingworth despite lacking any form of emotional attachment to him and later falling in love with the town’s reverend, Dimmesdale. The town is marked with a high level of hypocrisy by the townspeople with reference to Reverend Dimmesdale’s failure to shift his sermons after the illicit affair. Furthermore, the failure of Chillignworth to forgive his wife despite having being absent in her life and failing to honor his role as a husband illustrate the presence of religious hypocrisy.
The two texts provide a contrasting approach towards concepts of justice, religiosity, and sympathy. It is noted in the Scarlet Letter that the townspeople came to exercise sympathy as a result of Hester Prynne’s approach towards providing support to the sick, elderly, and those in pain. It is noted that the letter “A” that was embroidered on her clothing became a sing of hope and ability amongst the townspeople. It is noted that,
‘Do you see that woman with the embroidered badge?’ They would say to strangers. ‘It is our Hester—the town’s own Hester—who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted!” (Hawthorne, 1990).
This is indicative of the contrast between the presumed sinners and righteous puritans. She was condemned for her human nature in wanting love and affection from a man she desired. The puritans were known for subjecting the “sinners” to humiliation while failing to ensure the wellbeing of their community members. Hester is considered as a sinner, but is able to exceed the expectations of many to become a beacon of hope, love, ability, and individual transformation.
In Billy Bud, Sailor the aspect of religiosity is understood to be in the form of Claggart who assumes a role as the center of evil in the text. The author uses a variety of allusions and imagery by likening various aspects of the novel to biblical characters. Billy is liked to Christ given that he sacrifices his life to become an innocent victim of a hostile and ruthless society. Vere assumes the role of the Pontius Pilate as per the Gospels given that he is responsible for the sacrifice of Billy by adhering to set out military laws rather than his conscience.
Claggart is likened to the devil as he taunts and tempts Billy towards becoming violent. Claggart’s dead body is compared by the author to that one of a dead snake after he is struck gently by Billy. The author uses the name Budd as a reference to Billy’s innocence and positive values. The shift from the Rights-of-Man to the Bellipotent suggests that movement from a world of individuality to one that is marked by curtailed freedoms and loss of individual identity.
The two works indicate the loss of individuality, associated liberties as a result of societal norms, and imposed restrictions aimed at curtailing a sense of individuality and freedoms. Furthermore, it is also indicated of the differing levels of hypocrisy that are plaguing the various characters within the novels such as Claggart, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth. The primary difference between the two is the triumph of individuality and sympathy in Scarlet Letter whereas in Billy Bud, Sailor illustrates the triumph of evil over good. The sense of hypocrisy indicated in the two texts points out the difference between societies set during different periods (Melville, 2009). The puritans had a high sense of pride and hypocrisy despite their sinful ways as illustrated in the condemnation of Hester by the community including the sinful and hypocritical Dimmesdale. In conclusion, it is evident in both texts, that the battle between individualism against socialism as well as evil against good results in different results given the presence of varied circumstances.
Hawthorne, N. (1990). The scarlet letter. Champaign, Ill: Project Gutenberg.
Melville, H. (2009). Summary of Billy Bud, sailor. Redondo Beach, Calif: InterLingua Educational Pub.
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