The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter share many themes that are still present in today’s society, such as the use of public humiliation as a punishment. Because of their sins, both John Proctor and Hester Prynn were alienated and punished by their peers and town leaders. The public humiliation that they faced helped shape the characters in the eyes of the reader and effected the way that they behaved and acted.
In The Crucible John Proctor and the other towns people were punished by means of public humiliation because of their apparent use of witch craft. When they were accused each person was placed on a mobil cart, like cattle, and were transported to the local court where they were tried for their crime. Each trial was public, and towns members went to these trials to ridicule and give condescending comments while the judges were deciding. No jury was present and the only way each defendant could escape hanging was to confess, even if they were not guilty.
The accused who refused to confess were publicly hung for all to see, as if to give warning to all other citizens to pray and stay pure because if they did not they would be hung also. it even went as far as publicly displaying names. People would do anything to try and save themselves, even if it meant humiliating and accusing their friends. When John Proctor signed his name on a certificate proving his confession, it was said that it would be hung over the church door to show to, and warn others. This idea of loosing his name, and the shame that would come with the public humiliation was too much for John, so he rebuked his confession. The fear of witches and public humiliation was the death of John Proctor and many others in the Puritan society.
In The Scarlet Letter Hester Prynn was accused and found guilty of adultery after the birth of her child, while her husband was away. Because of this she was condemned to wear a scarlet and gold letter on her chest. Due to this letter, everyone, even people that she didn’t know looked down upon her because of her sin. Everyone has sinned in one way or another, but Hester was cursed to display it and was humiliated daily.
She could have gotten off with a different sentence, but because the court wanted her to “pay” for what she had done, they took on the role of God himself, and attempted to punish her on Earth by having to carry that burden with her everywhere she went as a constant reminder. Hester stood on the scaffolding by herself and in front of the whole town for all to see. She was ridiculed and beaten down with words, as the humiliation continued. By being publicly humiliated Hester at first became depressed because she felt alone in the world with only her daughter to comfort her, who was still another reminder of what she had done. Eventually Hester came to terms with the letter that she bore, but the public humiliation that she went through scarred her and was the cause of many unnecessary hardships that occurred throughout her life.
Public humiliation was not uncommon in the past, but it has decreased greatly in recent years, as the outcomes of ethics trials and laws against capital punishment were instated. Although the laws have changed, some people haven’t. In New Jersey a boy named Tyler Clementi committed suicide as a result of public humiliation. Students of the Rutgers campus posted videos of him online of him kissing another man. Clementi was ridiculed and tormented because of his homosexuality and the release of that video. The same students responsible for it also tried to capture and post other videos. Every where he went on and even off campus Clementi was humiliated by people who had seen the video. People enjoyed humiliating him, and other loved watching him be abused. As a direct affect of public humiliation, Tyler Clementi killed himself.
Public humiliation is a theme that is present in many different novels and even in present day. This humiliation changed the characters in The Crucible and Hester Prynn in The Scarlet Letter in several ways. The towns people and John proctor had to endure unfair trials and social alienation, while Hester had to live with her sin every single day of her life wile displaying it for the world to see. Although they did not take such extreme measures on themselves, like Tyler Clementi did in response to ridicule, they were all affected by being publicly humiliated.
- Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York, NY: Bantam, 1850. Print.
- Miller, Arthur. The Crucible (Penguin Classics). London: Penguin Classics, 2003.