10 April 2008

Crime and Punishment: The Great Gatsby versus The Scarlet Letter

The legal systems of modern America have achieved similar goals through different governments. Early American colonies, such as the one that formed the setting of The Scarlet Letter, were often based on theocratic governments.  As history progressed the time period that formed the setting of The Great Gatsby, the Constitution became the "supreme law of the land." These two legal systems recognized different crimes, but the basic concept of punishment was the same, being that guilty people can achieve absolution through punishment. With regard to both character's respective moral and legal settings, Hester Prynne consciously committed a crime that deserved significant punishment, while Daisy Buchanan did not intentionally commit a crime and therefore deserves little punishment.

            Hester Prynne took initiative in her actions in a way that punishment could properly correct. Hester consciously committed a crime for which she knew the punishment. Hester cheated on her husband, for which there was irrefutable evidence of a baby. The crime of adultery was punishable by being stoned to death, and Hester was completely aware of this punishment while committing her crime. Regardless of modern views of Hester's actions, Hester chose to live in the theocratic society of Boston and therefore was aware of the legal boundaries and the subsequent penalties for violating them. Because she consciously committed her crime, the most appropriate punishment for Hester would be one that changes the mind, and Hester's scarlet letter clearly modified her behavior for her edification. The novel clearly demonstrates that Hester's mindset was modified by her punishment to create respect for the law, proving that her seemingly harsh punishment was completely appropriate and applicable for the crime. For her actions, Hester Prynne received an appropriately harsh punishment.

            Daisy Buchanan's crimes could have been explained as an accident for which Daisy was not at fault, absolving her of any punishment. Daisy's crime of hit-and-run manslaughter may have been committed unintentionally. Because of the "innocent until proven guilty" law system in place at the time of Daisy's crime, a judge would have needed irrefutable evidence that Daisy was guilty in order to convict her of crimes and sentence her to punishment. Because logical explanations in Daisy's defense exist for all of her actions, the legal system at the time would not have sufficient evidence to charge Daisy of severe crimes, but some minor penalties would still remain. In chapter seven, the novel stated that Daisy attempted to avoid hitting Myrtle Wilson, but was forced back into her lane by oncoming traffic. Daisy's initial reaction to an obstruction in the road was to avoid it, which clearly would have shown a judge that she did not intend to hit Myrtle Wilson. Upon hitting Myrtle, it is completely plausible that Daisy could have gone into shock, which would have been a real medical condition that would have affected Daisy's ability to respond to her accident. Gatsby took control of the vehicle and situation after striking Myrtle, so was consequently Gatsby who would have ultimately decided to flee the scene of the crime, not Daisy. After recovering from her shock, it is also plausible that, as a woman in society, Daisy would not have had the authority to question Gatsby's decision to flee the scene. When looking at the overall picture of the crime, there is sufficient evidence that Daisy may not have inescapably guilty of many her alleged crimes, thereby showing that she wouldn't have deserved punishment. Though Daisy would have killed Myrtle Wilson, she did not intend for the crime to occur, and would therefore not benefit from a harsh punishment such as a prison sentence. Because there is no proof that Daisy attempted to hit Myrtle or that Daisy intended to flee the scene of the crime, behavior-correcting punishment would not have been effective for her actions, meaning that little or no punishment was due.

            When comparing the crimes of Hester Prynne and Daisy Buchanan, it is clear that Hester intentionally broke the law, while Daisy did not intentionally commit any crime; therefore Hester deserves significantly more punishment than Daisy. All people are fallible, and not all crimes warrant significant punishment. Those who unintentionally break the law, such as Daisy, would not be improved morally by punishment. Those who intentionally break the law, such as Hester, are prime candidates for punishment because their behavior could be refined. When assessing an appropriate punishment, guilt should not be a factor so much as what the punishment could accomplish. 

1 comment:

Murderface said...

Nicely done, Philip1209.

Rather than add to the very long thread you've started at FPN, I'll tell you the following here about two of the books on your list:

The Three Musketeers is a book you can read every 10 years and feel a rush of nostalgia for from now until Doomsday. It's a fantastic read, and if you ever want a book to take you away, it will never fail. It's like a magic portal that way.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is a book you can read every 10 years and feel a rush of poignancy for from now until Doomsday. It's a fantastic read, and it will never allow you to forget where you are. It's like a pitiless mirror that way.

Enjoy our summer reading. If it's hot where you are, I suggest either Faulkner to revel in the heat, or Jack London to get away from it, mentally.

I highly recommend any Kurt Vonnegut, now and forever, in any case.