Two hundred years ago, the church was the center of life in many New England towns. The church provided not only religions guidance but, was a place for social gathering and a chance for neighbors to keep in touch. This is shown in depth in Boston, by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, The Scarlet Letter and in Salem, by Arthur Miller’s, The Crucible. Both towns are perfect models of the churches’ affect on their communities.
Both towns were settled by immigrants from England seeking religious freedom from the theocracies in Europe. In each town the church became a leading force in the local government. The church could influence the courts to impose legal penalties on crimes against the Ten Commandments. Crimes such as adultery, in The Scarlet Letter, and worshiping other gods, The Crucible, were violations of the commandments and carried significant civil penalties. The church influenced the community “to keep the community together, and to prevent any kind of disunity that might challenge the church’s institutional values.”
In The Scarlet Letter, Boston even held special Election Day sermons. These were then followed by a special procession given by the town for the “minister whom they so loved.” However, these beloved church leaders were not the perfect devout workers of God that they professed to be. Reverend Dimmesdale, was an adulterer and father of an illegitimate child. Reverend Danforth of The Crucible, was a money hungry old man who appeared to be preaching for his own greedy, personal gain. Both men, however, were allowed to get away with their sins for a while because no one dared question the people who gave them their spiritual enlightenment. These men were, after all, the same men who were responsible for the church that stood at the center of not only the town, but also the morality and values that guided the lives of the people who lived in it.
It is somewhat ironic that in both novels, the persecution of women in puritan communities for crimes, which were sins against the church, took place in religious societies formed by those seeking relief from religious persecution. In each book, persecution of those who dared be different by breaking the communities accepted religious values, is apparent. Hester, the adulteress, and Abigail, the adulteress “witch”, were both persecuted for their actions.
In conclusion, it is very clear that the common theocratic theme of societal values based on puritanical religious beliefs controlled the day-to-day lives of the communities in The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible. The effect that religious conformity had on the lives of the community and persecution for nonconformity can not be overlooked in these works of Hawthorne or Miller.