“We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude” (BrainyQuote). Charles R Swindoll’s quote encourages one to let go of what they cannot change, and suggests instead to focus on what they can change: the future. At the beginning of the Scarlet Letter, a novel written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a married woman named Hester Prynne has committed adultery with an unknown man, later revealed as the reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. As a result of their passion, the two have an illegitimate child, forcing both the child and Hester to live as social outcasts. As punishment for her crime, Hester must wear a scarlet letter ‘A’ on her bosom as a symbol of shame and public humiliation. For the remainder of the Scarlet Letter, both Hester and Dimmesdale have to deal with the consequences resulting from their sins; throughout the novel Hawthorne emphasizes the ramifications of suppressing sin and keeping it hidden from the outside world. The best way to deal with sin is to accept the flaws one possesses and move on with his or her life.
Dimmesdale’s sin causes him severe anxiety over his guilt, and by not publicly acknowledging his sin, he cannot move on. He describes himself as “powerless…wretched and sinful as [he] is” displaying his lack of strength when it comes to the confession of his shameful deeds (Hawthorne 186). Although he acknowledges himself as a “sinful” and “wretched” person, Dimmesdale simply accepts his burden, only drowning himself in self-pity. Dimmesdale suffers in silence, only punishing himself by standing on top of the scaffold at night when no one is watching. His reluctance to publicly confess indicates that some part of him wants to retain his highly regarded position as town minister. Thus, Dimmesdale never fully accepts his sin; his inherent flaw of pride overshadows his conscience and better judgment. Dimmesdale eventually confesses atop the scaffold, thus freeing himself of his burden. As “[he stood] with a flush of triumph in his face… [with the] acutest pain,” Dimmesdale succumbs to his guilt in agony, his confession does nothing to alleviate his suffering (Hawthorne 240). Therefore, he never actually moves past his sin, ultimately carrying it to his death.
Hester initially deals with her sin by simply accepting her punishment. Even after her prison term finishes, Hester refuses to leave the town that sees nothing but sin in her, even “[calling] that place her home” (Hawthorne 73). However, “Hester bestowed all her superfluous means in charity,” an indication that Hester still lives by the Puritan doctrine of purity at this point in the novel (Hawthorne 77). Evident by the words “superfluous means” Hester most likely subsists, not allowing herself extra goods for she wants to give more to others to make up for her sin. Hester’s stubborn need to stay in her hometown and live out her punishment demonstrates her commitment to the Puritan doctrine. Hester commits most of her time to “making coarse garments for the poor,” further showing her desperation to cleanse her conscience of her sin (Hawthorne 77). The hope that Hester could one day compensate for her sins through these acts of charity gives her a false sense of redemption. Although she accepts her sin, Hester cannot move on yet because her commitment to the Puritan doctrine still defines her actions.
Instead of allowing the sin define her identity, Hester moves forward with her life. Although Hester’s crime condemns her to a limited lifestyle, she nevertheless overcomes the obstacle and moves on, unlike Dimmesdale, who wallows in his self-pity. When Hester and Dimmesdale sat in the forest and confess their sins to each other, he cries out “Be thou strong for me…advise me what to do [Hester],” which emphasizes Hester’s developing strength, evident through Dimmesdale’s plea for advice from her (Hawthorne 185). Through this strength, Hester finally admits that she “still so passionately loved [Dimmesdale]!” thereby fully embracing her flaw of passion (Hawthorne 182). Even after years have passed since the adultery, Hester realizes her feelings for Dimmesdale have not changed. Therefore, she acknowledges that she can never rid herself of such strong feelings, finally clearing a path for her to move on. In fact, Hester encourages Dimmesdale to leave the town and escape his burden, stating how “[Sin] shall not cumber thy steps” (Hawthorne 186). Hester speaks for her hopes for Dimmesdale to live an unburdened life, but also for the hopes for herself in that moment; she finally fully accepts her sin with her response to Dimmesdale, “Thou shall not go alone [to Europe]!” (Hawthorne 187). Hester’s enthusiastic agreement to move to Europe demonstrates that Hester’s readiness to move on wither her life. Ironically, by accepting herself as a sinner and an inherently flawed woman by nature, she has the ability to live a freer life than the “highly respected” Dimmesdale; she no longer has to hide behind the shame brought upon her by the scarlet letter.
Moving forward in her life gives Hester new strength and control over her life. Hester, having finally fully embraced the sin she committed, finds herself as the source of strength of other sufferers of sin. When Hester returns to the town at the end of the novel, “people brought all their sorrows and perplexities, and besought her counsel,” showing that the people in the town no longer saw Hester as the bearer of the scarlet letter or a sinful woman (Hawthorne 247). In fact, they look up to her for guidance, perceiving her as a kindred spirit, a woman who “had herself gone through a mighty trouble” (Hawthorne 247). Hester decides to “[return]…of her own free will,” choosing to return to the town regardless of what the townspeople thought of her. As a result of her newly gained confidence, Hester no longer holds herself as a symbol of shame and sin for the town, and no longer allows her sin control her every action. She could live in comfort and luxury, as there “were articles of comfort and luxury” in her home (Hawthorne 246). However, Hester did not physically move on to a better place, indicating that Hester can never completely let go of her past. However, she did move past her days as a social outcasts, gaining strength and wisdom. Through these new traits, Hester finds herself able to live freely amongst the townspeople that once looked down on her.
Hester goes from a shameful, sinful social outcast to a strong and confident woman. Once she freed herself from her past sin that resulted from her inherent flaw of passion, she found herself in a better place. Though the past is written in stone, one does not have to let the stone’s weight keep them from moving forward. This idea holds true in the TV show Once Upon A Time. The Evil Queen committed many heinous crimes in the Enchanted Forest, actions which she claimed came out of her hatred for Snow White for revealing a secret. Eventually, the Evil Queen realizes her actions actually result from her inability to let go of a grudge, leading to the acceptance of her past actions as wrong and despicable. By moving past her quest for revenge, she wins back the love of her son, and the acceptance of her kingdom as well. On the other hand, Rumpelstiltskin knows what disgusting crimes he has committed, yet he only twists the truth of his actions and never admits his flaws. His quest for power consumes his soul to the point where his heart literally blackens with darkness, ultimately killing him. Dimmesdale and Rumpelstiltskin did not live by Swindoll’s message, instead choosing to let their past block them from moving forward. However, because both and Hester and the Evil Queen followed Swindoll’s suggestion and chose to accept their past, they gave themselves the freedom of mind to create a better future.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, Nancy Stade, and George Stade. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003. Print.
"Past Quotes." BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 03 Jan. 2016