The Puritan society was one of oppression and suppression. They were a strict people and looked down on all they disagreed with. As shown in the Jonathan Edwards sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, they viewed people who did not follow their doctrine to the letter as inferior and doomed to an eternity in hell. The Puritan culture is shown as such in both Puritan writings, such as The Minister’s Black Veil by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and more modern media, like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The Puritan culture heavily condemned and suppressed all they disagreed with, calling actions and people who gave in to their human nature deviant.
The Crucible was a play by Arthur Miller that showed many aspects of the Puritan society, including the constant subduing of the human nature. People and actions were labeled as demonic purely because they did not agree with it. Miller writes, “Abominations are done in the forest-” (Miller 1.91). In this, it is shown that they have a prejudice against the forest. This works to show the reader that the Puritans had some unreasonable bias against some objects and places. This bias extends to human actions as well. For instance, the character Mary Warren talks about how “You’ll only be whipped for dancin’, and the other things” (Miller 1.318-319). The evidence is an example of how something innocent and fun, such as dancing, is being suppressed by this strict Puritan culture. This portrayal of the Puritan society, while seeming extreme and somewhat unreasonable, matches with historical evidence.
The Puritan society and how they acted have been very well documented. Historians have written that “They were a big group, and very stern and serious about their religion and beliefs. If anyone disagreed with them, or questioned them, they believed that person was controlled by the devil” (“Puritans Belief Article” 2). As seen in this quote, the Puritans saw all those who disagreed with their beliefs as satanic. People who gave in to their human nature were labeled as demonic, the thing that is the exact opposite of human. This is also written in their sermons. In the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, Jonathan Edwards preached about how, “natural men are held in the hand of God, over the Pit of hell,” (Edwards). His words signify and show the strict Puritan beliefs and how those who didn’t fall in line with them were damned to hell. Both the writings of historians and the Puritans themselves tell about how they believed their way of life was right, and any other was inhuman.
Another piece of writing that demonstrates the oppressive nature of Puritan society is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil. It’s the story of how the Minister, Father Hooper, who gave in to his guilt from his sins, which is a natural thing to do, and showed it by wearing a black veil, became ostracized because of it. In the text, Father Hooper laments about how “men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil,” (Hawthorne 15). The author’s writing shows an example of how a man, who gave in to the human emotion of guilt, was forced to live a life of solitude due to his decision of wearing a veil to repent for his sins. In this story, the man the people had always seen as holy, became unholy simply because they didn’t like what he did. The villagers talked about how, “He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face,” (Hawthorne 3). This shows the prejudice of the Puritan society, and how they viewed those they disagreed with. The treatment of Father Hooper in the story outlines the judgemental nature of the Puritan people.
This fictional story is an example of the mindset of the Puritan culture. They viewed humans as “sinners with no hope of entering Heaven, except for Puritans, who were a people apart (and superior) from other people, and even then, a Puritan could only enter Heaven if they lived their entire life as God would wish,” (“Puritans Belief Article” 2). All other people were deemed by Puritans as unsalvageable souls, simply because they did not fit their mindset. To add to this, they also condemned their own people that lived in a way that they disagreed with. This further shows the prejudice they possessed. The Puritans believed that religion should be the focus of their life. They thought that “Christianity should be taken as the focus of human existence,” (“Puritans Belief Article” 2). Trying to put one’s faith as the center of their existence is near impossible for most people. People, by nature, tend to put the focus on themselves, or their family, or their greed, or many other things, good or bad. According to the Puritans, only those who lived a perfect life, like an angel, could embrace eternal salvation, and those who acted human had no hope for heaven.
The characters from these texts focusing on Puritan society also serve as a way to demonstrate the oppressiveness of the culture. In The Crucible, the character Danforth is one example of a Puritan with prejudice and who viewed himself as superior. He said that “Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now. While I speak God’s law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering,” (Miller. 4.257-261). This goes to show how he sees himself, as a man good enough to work as God’s hand, and his actions as an oppressor of the human nature. It also illustrates his view of himself as infallible, and how he refuses to acknowledge any mistakes he made. He works as a condemnor. Also, he is acting power-hungry and proud, which are very human mindsets to have. The judge Danforth works to represent the oppressive, and hypocritical, nature of the Puritans.
Another character who demonstrates the Puritan’s suppressive ways is the minister of Westbury in The Minister’s Black Veil. He had an accusatory attitude and was suspicious of Father Hooper simply because he refused to take off his mask in his dying moments. He said to him, “With what horrible crime upon your soul are you know passing to the judgment?” (Hawthorne 16). He believed that Father Hooper was concealing a grave sin upon his soul, simply because he refused to take off his mask. He is holding on to the mask, out of the guilt he still holds, and, possibly, some attachment to it, sort of like a child with a safety blanket. Both of those are natural things to do. The minister of Westbury is symbolic of the unfair expectations the Puritans held people to, and how they condemned those who failed to meet them.
The Puritans were suppressors who labeled any behavior, including behavior that is natural and human, that was not part of their beliefs as not only deviant, but also demonic and unholy. This has been very well represented in works of literature over the years, both fictional and non-fictional, and by both Puritan and non-Puritan authors. Their oppressive nature has acted as both plot points and as characterizations in the play The Crucible and in the story The Minister’s Black Veil. While the Puritan society is long gone, one has to wonder if some traces of the oppression that was a large part of their culture has influenced today’s society, or if it still exists in some way.