Letter Essay, Research Paper
The Presence of Guilt in The Scarlet Letter
Guilt can change even the evilest moral standards. The continuing emotional guilt throughout the story affects the characters and events that take place. This presence of guilt is shown through the scaffold with Hester?s punishment, with Dimmesdale?s inner struggle, and with Dimmesdale?s final confession at the end of the novel.
Guilt first comes into play, when Hester must take her stand on the scaffold as public punishment for her adultery. Hester is forced to admit her sin and stand on the scaffold to show that she is paying for her sin. As she stands there among the public eye with Pearl in her arms, Hester begins to realize what she has done is wrong. She touches the scarlet letter to ?assure herself that the infant and her shame are real.?(52) She is forced to put into perspective that she has lost everything, but Hester still refuses to be truly repentant of her actions. She knows she loves Dimmesdale and although everything between them has changed, she is sure their love will never fade.
Dimmesdale is also affected by his own guilt. Dimmesdale is overcome by the torture he feels emotionally and spiritually for his sin. He approaches the same scaffold that Hester took her punishment on earlier, to admit his guilt. He goes at night because he is too cowardly to admit his sin publicly. He feels that maybe in some way, he can feel better about himself if he can stand on the scaffold as Hester did. As he stands there, Dimmesdale feels ?as if the universe were gazing at the scarlet token on his naked breast? (133) This is image plays true as the scar that Dimmesdale has inflicted upon himself, is revealed. Since
Dimmesdale is too afraid to have the townspeople persecute him, he begins to mutilate himself physically to relieve some of the anguish he feels. In some way, he feels guilty that Hester must take all the blame for their adultery, and his identity remains hidden. He knows that he is somewhat protected from persecution and he feels that self-mutilation is the only way to overcome his guilty conscience.
Finally, Dimmesdale?s guilt overpowers him. Guilt leads to the final resolution in the novel. The conclusion takes place on the scaffold. As Dimmesdale?s guilt builds and builds, he gets sicker and sicker. It is then that he realizes his only true repentance is through public confession. Following what was greatest sermon of his fine career, Dimmesdale asks Hester and Pearl to ascend the scaffold steps with him. With the woman he loves and his child through sin by his side, he turns to the crowd of people and with the words, ? ?at last! ?I stand upon the spot where seven years since, I should have stood?? (232) he confesses the sin that has plagued him for years, releasing his guilty conscience. Once his guilt is freed, Dimmesdale feels no remorse, closes his eyes, and takes his last breath.
Guilt plays a very dramatic role throughout The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne uses the unique symbol of the scaffold, to act as the central location for the recognition of sin and guilt. The sin of adultery and the guilt that follows affects Hester and Dimmesdale both internally and externally in different ways. But in n the end, Hawthorne shows that a guilt is the punishment for all sin, but can also be the key to the light.