The Scarlet Letter Essay Essay, Research Paper
Sin is defined in the dictionary as a transgression against God. In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author analyzes sin. The Scarlet Letter is a gloomy novel, but is effective in explaining the beliefs of older Americans and the taboos of older society. He details the adultery of Hester Prynne, who has a baby with Arthur Dimmesdale, an unmarried pastor. Hester s husband Roger Chillingworth, a physician, figures out that Dimmesdale is the father and subtly tortures him for years. In describing the story of these characters, Hawthorne examines sin and how it affects their lives. Hester is shunned by society, while Dimmesdale becomes weaker and weaker through the years, tormented by his sin as well as by Chillingworth. Chillingworth himself becomes obsessed and consumed over his desire for revenge. Through Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth, Hawthorne displays an ambiguous view of sin. However, in the end of the novel the characters are punished for their sins. By the end, it becomes clear that Hawthorne believes that adultery, hiding a sin, and revenge are all sins that deserve punishment. Sin is a vice that can be overcome by penance over time, but basically sin, once committed, is a stigma on a person forever. Hawthorne s message at the end is that sin can either be punished lightly by society, or that sin can be hidden from society, but sin cannot be hidden from God. God always punishes sin, but the punishment can be overcome in the greatest circumstances.
Hester s sin is her adultery, which goes against Puritan societal values as well as God s commandments. After being punished by the people for her sin, though, she is not able to easily overcome her desires. Hester lives with Pearl in a cottage, but her love for Dimmesdale does not diminish. Upon her release from prison Hester s motives for remaining in Boston are not entirely pure; It might be -doubtless it was so, although she hid the secret from herself There dwelt, there trode the feet of one with whom she deemed herself connected in a union (80). The punishments of the scaffold viewing, the scarlet A , and the time in prison are supposed to eliminate Hester s adulterous desires, but she still has desires after her punishment. Hester is punished by society, but God does not yet take action against her. But at the end of the novel, it seems apparent that Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl will leave for the Old World together, but Dimmesdale s death prevents Hester s happiness. Dimmesdale s death is God s punishment to Hester, because of Hester s adulterous thoughts after her initial punishment of jail and the A on her chest. Then, Hawthorne explains Hester s punishment with Dimmesdale s words, The law we broke!-the sin here so awfully revealed!-let these alone be in thy thoughts! I fear! I fear! It may be that, when we forgot our God,-when we violated our reverence each for the other s soul,-it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could meet hereafter, in an everlasting and pure reunion (269). Dimmesdale tells Hester that it was a vain hope that they could be together after he and Hester violated God s rules. He is basically saying that she is a sinner and she can never be saved in God s eyes. By means of the pastor s words, Hawthorne explains that Hester needs to remember her sin and fear the wrath of God. Hester did not do either, and so she was denied happiness. At the end, she has the least punishment of all the characters, though, because she had the least sin out of everyone. Still, because she did not suffer enough for her sin God does not forgive her.
Chillingworth actually sins the most out of all the characters, because he sins twice and violates other people s rights. God punishes Chillingworth the most for his sins. His first sin was his marriage to Hester, which is proven when Hester thinks it seemed a fouler offence committed by Roger Chillingworth that, in the time when her heart knew no better, he had persuaded her to fancy herself happy by his side (184). Before he even moved in with Dimmesdale, Chillingworth had already committed a sin. He persuaded Hester to marry him, presumably because she was young and pretty. In God s eyes Chillingworth is a double-sinner, because Chillingworth also has the sin of tormenting Dimmesdale and violating his soul. Dimmesdale tells Hester, There is one worse than even the polluted priest! [Chillingworth s] revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart (205). Chillingworth is a bigger sinner than Dimmesdale because Chillingworth violated another person s inner thoughts and private beliefs, and attempted to make him suffer for his actions. Hester s sin of adultery is relatively mild compared to Chillingworth s sins. Dimmesdale s primary sin is his concealment of his adulterous relationship with Hester, but Dimmesdale tortures himself over this and is also tortured by Chillingworth. He doesn t violate anyone else. At the end of the novel, Chillingworth s punishment is decidedly more deadly than anyone else s. Chillingworth is forced to rot away and die a painful death. Hawthorne writes, Nothing was more remarkable than the change which took place in the appearance and demeanor of the old man known as Roger Chillingworth This unhappy man had made the very principle of his life to consist in the pursuit and systematic exercise of revenge when there was no more Devil s work on earth for him to do, it only remained for the unhumanized mortal to betake himself whither his Master would find him tasks enough, and pay him his wages duly (272). Chillingworth is so sinful, he is considered a soldier of the Devil. By the end, Chillingworth is unloved and had no purpose in life, because Dimmesdale s death ended Chillingworth s torture of the man. Chillingworth is pathetic and deteriorating; God punished the biggest sinner by hurting him the most.
Arthur Dimmesdale commits two sins, but he is never punished by his society; rather, he is placed on the highest pedestal and praised as the ideal man. God, however, punishes Dimmesdale severely. He allows Chillingworth to torture Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale knows he is a sinner for committing adultery and not telling anyone about it, which is why he tortures himself. In Dimmesdale s closet there was a bloody scourge. Oftentimes, this Protestant and Puritan divine had plied it on his own shoulders; laughing bitterly at himself the while, and smiting so much because of that bitter laugh (150). Dimmesdale sees the hypocrisy of continuing to serve God despite his inability to confess his adultery with Hester. Society is not able to impose a punishment upon Dimmesdale, so Dimmesdale physically abuses himself. This is not a punishment from God though. God punishes Dimmesdale by allowing Chillingworth to torment him. With his dying breath, Dimmesdale says, [God] hath proved his mercy by giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast! By sending yonder dark and terrible old man, to keep the torture always at red heat! (269). Dimmesdale s burning torture is basically his part in Hester s adultery, and his inability to confess his sin with Hester. The dark and terrible old man, Chillingworth, tortured Dimmesdale by keeping him constantly aware of his sins and his failings, and reminding him that the townspeople regard Dimmesdale as perfect even though he is far from it. Dimmesdale endures the persecution for longer than seven years before he is able to confess. Upon his confession and last words, Dimmesdale dies. This is actually God s mercifulness finally coming into play. Dimmesdale dies after the weight of his sin is lifted off him, and the death is relief from the torture of Chillingworth. In Dimmesdale s case, God actually is merciful and enables him to leave the earth in peace. Hawthorne shows here how God can be merciful if one endures God s punishment and eventually breaks it. Before, Chillingworth told Dimmesdale, Thou hast escaped me Thou hast escaped me! (268). Once freeing himself of God s punishment, Dimmesdale was able to die in peace.
Only one of the characters is able to overcome the stigma of his sin, but only after he endures God s harshest punishment. Hester believes her sin has no effect on her later in life, but at the end is denied happiness by God. Chillingworth becomes so obsessed that sin arises from his obsession, which causes his death. Only Dimmesdale has the strength to withstand God s punishment and work hard to overcome his sin. This reinforces Hawthorne s beliefs on sin; God s punishment is the most sever, but it can be overcome in the greatest circumstances.