Sunday, August 5, 2018

Scarlet Letter: Mob Rule

In June 1638, in Puritan Boston, Massachusetts, a crowd gathers to witness the punishment of Hester Prynne, a young woman who has given birth to a baby of an unknown father. She is required to wear a scarlet 'A' on her dress when she is in front of the townspeople, to shame her. The letter 'A' stands for adulteress. Her punishment (because adultery was illegal at the time) is to stand on the scaffold for three hours, exposed to public humiliation, and to wear the scarlet 'A' for the rest of her life. As Hester approaches the scaffold, many of the women in the crowd are angered by her beauty and quiet dignity. When demanded and cajoled to name the father of her child, Hester refuses.

Although the Scarlet Letter was a fictional story, similar things have happened throughout history. In the past, people have been publicly humiliated for many crimes, including speech. Throughout history, speech has been tightly controlled. Even today, there are countries where you can be whipped, stoned, or imprisoned for speaking out against religion or government. When the founders of the United States created the Constitution, they decided the language for protecting speech needed to be more defined, so they added the 1st Amendment.