Morality can be interpreted in many different ways. The technical definition is a set of principles or values that distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad. In the play The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller, and the book The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the theme of morality is deeply explored. These texts take place during Puritan New England, a time in which people relied heavily on religion to govern their daily lives. The authors use this Puritan template to investigate the morality of the people in those times. Nowadays, religion does not play as crucial a role in the daily routine of life. However, morality is still a key component to how people act and think. Society today has a slightly more moral outlook than in Puritan times, with more voices and perspectives on morality; nevertheless, underlying stereotypes still result in immoral actions and perpetrations meaning that today’s society is not more righteous, even though their is a stronger attempt to be so.
Modern day society has a better grasp of right and wrong and the severity of people's actions, yet stereotypes, that are brought up constantly, lead to many acts that are immoral. In Puritan times, people were very strict in their view of right and wrong, so their punishments, even for trivial crimes, were severe and unforgiving. For example, in The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne describes how even though it was years after her crime, and she was performing good deeds, Hester was still being punished. He writes that there were, “None so ready as she to give of her little substance to every demand of poverty; even though the bitter-hearted pauper threw back a gibe in requital of the food brought regularly to his door, or the garments wrought for him by the fingers that could have embroidered a monarch’s robe” (Hawthorne 146). Even though she is doing good (moral) deeds, she is being scorned by the people she is helping because of a sin she committed years ago. The distinction between right and wrong in Puritan times was purely black and white. There was no middle ground. Hester has repented for her sin and is helping those less fortunate, but she is still seen and condemned as a sinner and is treated poorly because of it. If she had committed her sin in modern times this would not happen, she would not be subjected to the severe punishment that she endured. She would not have been viewed as such a bad person. Her husband had been gone for two years and she fell in love with someone else. In today’s times, if her husband had come back he most likely would have left her and she would have been punished by her own guilt and sadness, or he would have understood and forgave her. She would still be punished by her guilt but she would not be subject to the humiliation and destruction of her public standing.
Even with today’s more tolerant view of society, there are stereotypes and generalisations that people frequently make that end up with horribly unscrupulous acts. One instance of this is when Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a neighborhood watchmen. Martin had been walking with his hoodie up in the rain and this drew the suspicion of the watchmen. It ended with Trayvon dead (Botelho, 2012). This combined with other recent law enforcement killings of unarmed black men show how stereotypes take away from the morality of our society. The perpetrators did not, as far as we know, kill them because they were black, they killed them because of a stereotype that is frequently brought up in our society and has become ingrained in the minds of many, even though it is largely false and unwarranted. The director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the San Bernardino campus, Brian Levin, says, “We're seeing these stereotypes and derogative statements become part of the political discourse,” during an interview for an article about an increase of muslim hate crimes (Lichtblau, 2016). Levin is referencing statements made by Donald Trump, during his campaign for presidency. These stereotypes coming up in political discourse speak to how they have become such a big part of society today. Even as these stereotypes continue to surface in the form of iniquitous acts and conversations though, people start to fight back, something that would not have been done in Puritan times. This fighting back is apparent through protests and the national outcries by citizens. In another article written about the shooting of Trayvon Martin the writer explains how the shooting affected the nation by, “igniting a national debate on racial profiling and civil rights” (Alvarez & Buckley, 2013). This statement summarizes how these events trigger the fight back and protest for morality, something that did not happen in Puritan times.
Today there are more voices and perspectives providing views on and fighting for what is right. In Puritan times, there was only one moral code, the Church, and no one dared to think differently from this perspective. If they did go against it and stand up for a personal moral code, they were opposed and even accused of being evil themselves. This is evident in an excerpt from a scene in Miller’s play, The Crucible, when John Proctor is being questioned and Reverend Parris says about John Proctor, “ ‘Such a Christian that will not come to church but once in a month!’... [Cheever adds] ‘He plow on Sunday, sir.’ [Danforth exclaims] ‘Plow on Sunday!’ ” (Miller 90-91). Parris brings up John Proctor’s faithfulness to the church because he wants to put Proctor in a bad light and make him seem immoral. In Puritan times, if you did not follow the church’s way you were seen as evil. The fact that John Proctor did not follow the same exact moral code as the church made him seem corrupt in the eyes of the officials such as Danforth and Parris. In their eyes, John was not completely in the right, so he was perceived as completely in the wrong. This portrays the one-sidedness of the views of people in Puritan times. This is also evident in The Scarlet Letter when Hester is given her punishment. Only one woman empathized with Hester’s situation and saw it from another perspective. All the other women viewed Hester as wicked and thought that she should be punished more. This singular perspective on the world does not lend itself to a just and moral place. It is easy to be swept up in the tide of similar or popular thoughts, as evident in the sudden and large scale accusations and condemnations of witchcraft in The Crucible. Today, there are many different moral codes and opinions on right and wrong. As a result, when an immoral thing occurs, people can view it in different ways and fight for what is right on a broader spectrum.
Today’s society is more open and objective on morality and, although there are immoral actions stemming from long-lasting stereotypes, the different and broader perspectives on right and wrong mean that more steps can be taken to fight for what is widely accepted as morally right. Overall, modern society is not more moral but at least attempting to be better. Puritan society was very strict and one-dimensional. Today’s society is more diverse and able to stand up for morality, unlike Puritan times. Negative stereotypes still result in immoral actions but justice can more easily prevail due to the wider and more accepting moral code of today and the ability to fight for what is right.
Alvarez, Lizette, and Cara Buckley. "Zimmerman Is Acquitted in Trayvon Martin Killing." New York Times. 14 Jul. 2013: A.1. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 11 Nov. 2016. http://sks.sirs.com/webapp/article?artno=0000353080&type=ART
Botelho, Greg. “What happened the night Trayvon Martin died” CNN.com. Cable News Network, 23 May 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/18/justice/florida-teen-shooting-details/
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Modern Library ed., Modern Library, 2000.
Lichtblau, Eric. "Level of Hate Crimes Against U.S. Muslims Highest Since After 9/11." New York Times. 18 Sep. 2016: A.13. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 10 Nov. 2016. http://sks.sirs.com/webapp/article?artno=0000385954&type=ART#cite
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. Penguin Group, 1976.