’s Essay, Research Paper
Effects of Sin in Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s greatest literary masterpiece. Because of his Puritan heritage, he is able to tell the story of the effects of an adulterous affair on a small Puritan community like no one else could. Hawthorne clearly used this story to teach several moral lessons. Throughout this book he spends much of his time concentrating on how sin affects the life of his characters. Each of his characters’ lives are shaped by how they confront their sins.
Chillingworth is the embodiment of how sins can shape a person. He committed two major sins. The first occurs before the book even begins when he marries Hester although he knows that she does not return his love. Chillingworth acknowledges that it was wrong for him to marry her and because of this, he is not mad at Hester for her infidelity. He says to Hester in the jail cell, ” Mine was the first wrong, when I betrayed thy budding youth into this false and unnatural relation’” (69). Chillingworth’s second sin was far more grave than the first. For seven long years, Chillingworth relentlessly tried to drive the sanity out of Dimmesdale. He poses as Dimmesdale’s friend and personal doctor and exploits his position by purposely asking questions that make him feel guilty and tortures his conscience. This becomes Chillingworth’s obsession, his one purpose for life and as a result of his evil actions, he slowly transforms into a dark, almost devilish character. This transition became apparent to many people in Boston but Dimmesdale thought that Chillingworth was sent by God to torture him because of his sin and did not realize his true intentions.
A large number . . . affirmed that Roger Chillingworth’s aspect had undergone a remarkable change while he had dwelt in town, and especially since his abode with Mr. Dimmesdale. At first, his expression had been calm, meditative, scholar-like. Now, there was something ugly and evil in his face, which they had not previously noticed, and which grew still the more obvious to sight the oftener they looked upon him (117).
Hawthorne tells us that Hester’s sin is minute compared with what Chillingworth has done. Still, Hester’s one moment of passion will follow her for the rest of her life. However, out of all of Hawthorne’s characters, Hester is best able to handle the aftermath of her sin. There are two direct effects of Hester’s sin. The first is Pearl. Pearl serves as a constant reminder of her sin and is looked down on by members of the community simply because she was born out of wedlock. It pains Hester to see her daughter suffer for her sin but she can do nothing to stop it. The second result of Hester’s sin is the scarlet letter “A” she is forced to where, branding her an adulteress. During the first scaffold scene, Hester hates the letter on her chest. She is even tempted to hold Pearl in front of it, but quickly realizes that “one token of her shame would poorly serve to hide another”. Eventually Hester accepts the scarlet letter and later she is given the chance to remove it, but she chooses not to. Hester’s redemption is in her honesty and candor. Unlike other characters who carry their sins in secret, she publicly acknowledges her sins. Later in the book, Hester realizes that the stigma of the scarlet letter allows her to reach out and help people. By doing this she gains the respect of many members of the community.
All of the main characters felt the effects of sin but each responded in a different way. Hester was up-front and honest about her sin, while Chillingworth consciously plotted against Dimmesdale in secret. Hawthorne emphases how hidden sin is far worse than sin seen in the public eye.