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The Scarlet Letter

Sin is embedded within every human being, and imperfections are an unavoidable part of mankind. Yet as the novel, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne exemplifies, the effect that sin has on a person can vary, depending on the method in which they handle their mistake. The main characters in this novel deal with their individual sins in different ways, and as a result, each faces consequences with varying levels of severity. The entire Puritan community knows of Hester Prynne's adultery, due to her open confession and embroidered scarlet letter on her chest, but Reverend Dimmesdale is quite the opposite, being Hester's secret partner and not admitting his mistake. Roger Chillingworth, being Hester's actual husband who sent her alone overseas to live in the colony, has gone rather insane from seeking revenge on Hester's partner, and has become corrupted by his own sin. Repercussions from committing a sin cannot be avoided, but they differ by the way that the characters associate themselves with their fault.

Though Hester Prynne had committed one of the most ungodly sins from the Puritan colony's point of view, she accepted her mistake and was able to uphold her pride. Her adultery could have cost her life, but she was spared on the scaffold as she stood with her chin held high. The Puritans expected her to be ashamed and completely embarrassed of herself, but she proved to be quite the opposite. “She was ladylike, too…characterized by a certain state and dignity, …those who had known her before and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled , to perceive how her beauty shone out,” (7). She had come to embrace her sin, and openly admitted it, going as far as to embroider her scarlet letter in red and gold, serving as a reminder of the forbidden love shared between her and Dimmesdale. The colonists could not help but stare at the dazzling “A” that dominated her image, but she took the criticism in stride, and maintained her dignity throughout the situation. She was able to support herself with her embroidery work, and even became a vital asset to the community by her good-doing for the poor. Instead of letting the guilt of her fault bring her down, the effect of Hester's sin allowed her to develop a sense of independence and self-respect, growing into a strong feminist character of her time.

Reverend Dimmesdale was a very conscientious preacher, and was greatly respected in the Puritan community, but he was secretly hiding an unbearable sin. Dimmesdale had committed adultery with Hester Prynne, and he had not admitted his involvement, even though Hester already exposed herself. The remorse from his sin was bearing into the minister's heart, destroying his dignity. “The minister…subtle, but remorseful hypocrite that he was! By the constitution of his nature, loved the truth and loathed the lie…therefore, above all things else, he loathed his miserable self!” (96). By not coming to terms with his mistake, Dimmesdale was internally torturing himself, his built up guilt devouring his psyche and even causing him to whip himself as a twisted form of self-punishment. His mental anguish drove him to deliver more emotional and powerful sermons, but the colonist only viewed him as more humble when he proclaimed that he himself had sinned. “I, your pastor, whom you so reverence and trust, am utterly polluted and a lie!” (95). The church's disbelief of his wrong only intensified Dimmesdale's guilt, and his vitality was deteriorating from the immense grief he still held inside. Without an outright confession, his angst eventually led to his death.

Roger Chillingworth was the loveless husband of Hester Prynne, who sent her overseas to the new colony to live on her own. He had expected her to still harbor affection towards him, even though he had abandoned her in a foreign land. Yet upon his arrival in the colony, he became absolutely furious to find that Hester had cheated on him in his absence. Chillingworth makes it his mission to exact revenge on Hester's partner, and he comes to embody the meaning of true evil. His deformed physical appearance, along with his malicious intent to hurt others over actually finding justice, reveals Chillingworth's sinful, demented soul. He assumes the identity of a physician, or “leech”, and begins to closely examine Dimmesdale after he falls ill (from his guilt). Chillingworth indeed latches onto Dimmesdale like a leech, as he suspects him of being Hester's partner. “He had begun an investigation, with severe and equal integrity of a judge…but, as he proceeded, a terrible fascination, a kind of fierce, but still calm necessity seized the old man…he now dug into the poor clergyman's heart,” (81). Chillingworth was deliberately seeking destruction for the Reverend, and had no interest in redressing wrongs. Unlike the mistakes of Hester and Dimmesdale, performing an act of love instead of hate, Chillingworth was vengeful and epitomizes the evil nature of sin. He shows no remorse, or even recognition that he has sinned.

Sin is unavoidable for all mankind, but sins committed by the characters in this novel each cause differing consequences, as a result of how they address their mistakes. Hester was accepting of her own sin, embracing her forbidden love she shared with Dimmesdale, and was able to move on with her life and grow to be an asset to the colony. Dimmesdale suffered immensely, physically and mentally, from not admitting his sin, and his livelihood deteriorated as a result. Chillingworth came to embody evil by his malicious intents of sin, and his lack of remorse. Dealing with guilt and acceptance of faults are a part of being human, but the process in which sin is accepted can determine the sinner's fate.



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Abigail H. said...
Sept. 3, 2009 at 11:56 am
WOW this is good
 
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