We give you a story about Puritans. All judgment and dour joylessness. Warriors against pleasure. Followers of a Merciless God. The Forebearers of all of America’s moral busibodiness in the public square. All that and one other thing: people, just like us.
That is what strikes me most about working on Lean & Hungry’s adaptation of “The Scarlet Letter.” The Puritans have their judgments and gossip and dark fears and their rigid drawing of lines of belonging. They have beliefs you must hold, and rules you must not violate (at least publically) lest you be cast into the darkness (or at least, the forest).
In a way, just like us.
The Puritans are different and familiar. Odd yet identical. We may have different rules, different actions and beliefs, that we judge with, but the results are strikingly similar. Almost all of us live in ideologically homogenous communities, even if the borders are less geographic than cultural. We are all searching for community and connection, and, in theory, we claim love and respect can transcend our differences.
The Puritans believed in a God who loves all of humanity. They stopped the execution of a woman caught in the act of adultery with the words, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” We, rightly, have disgust for the hypocrisy and selective indignation of the Puritans. We contrast our open mindedness and tolerance with their moral marital law. But, in truth, how many of us have fostered an environment in our own lives where others can be honest with us—about politics, or religion, or art, or anything of substance–and know that no disagreement, however deep, would deny them love and acceptance? Would allow them to avoid some other Scarlet Letter to be placed upon them?
Hester is a Puritan. She is an adulteress. And no one in the story is more honorable, more insistent on giving others a fair chance. No one is more forgiving, more Christian, than her.
Dimmesdale is a Puritan. He failed spectacularly in one moment of his life, and fights like hell for the rest of it to make amends. He defends Hester and Pearl even as he hides his relation to them. He is a heaving mess of courage and cowardice, love and fear.
My character, Chillingworth is a Puritan. For all his satanic reveling in tormenting Dimmesdale, he is honest enough to admit that the greatest cause of Hester’s adultery was his own coldness. He asked something unreasonable and received the predictable result.
They are each a mess. Their souls are battlegrounds between light and dark, vice and virtue. They are Puritans. They are people.
Just like us.