Letter Essay, Research Paper
In Nathaniel Hawthorne s The Scarlet Letter, there are many moral and social themes which are demonstrated throughout the novel. Each theme is very important to the overall effect of the novel. In essence, The Scarlet Letter is a story of sin, punishment and the importance of truth. One theme which plays a big role in The Scarlet Letter is that of sin and its effects. Throughout the novel there were many sins committed by various characters. The effects of these sins are different in each character and every character was punished in a unique way. Two characters were perfect examples of this theme in the novel. Hester Prynne and The Reverend Dimmesdale best demonstrated the theme of the effects of sin.
One character who demonstrated the effects of sin was Hester Prynne. Hester Prynne commits adultery with the Reverend Dimmesdale. Because this act resulted in a child, she was unable to hide her wrongdoing while Dimmesdale s analogous sin went unnoticed. Her punishment for her crime was to spend a few hours on the scaffold to face public humiliation, and she was forced to wear the letter A on her clothes for the rest of her life. Hester s punishment for her sin was distinguished in that the results of her actions were for the most part external. Hawthorne describes what Hester s punishment was like when he states, In all her intercourse with society, however, there was nothing that made her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came in contact, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished. (p.44) Although Hester was somewhat emotionally damaged through public humiliation and alienation, Hester was actually internally content at the fact that she was paying for her crime. The consequences which Hester faced for her actions were the result of her admission of guilt. This proved to be much less harsh then the internal punishment which Dimmesdale faced.
The Reverend Dimmesdale was another character that demonstrated the effects of sin. He committed the same offense that Hester committed, adultery. The difference between Dimmesdale and Hester was that Dimmesdale was not publicly punished for his crime while Hester was. Because of this, Dimmesdale felt extremely guilty. This feeling of guilt was so atrocious that it mentally and physically withered Dimmesdale, as he felt a very strong need to repent and cleanse his soul. Dimmesdale describes himself as an emaciated figure, his thin cheek, his white, heavy, pain-wrinkled brow, (p.143). He had become so physically pathetic from the guilt which tore at him internally and physically. Dimmesdale s method of repentance was much worse than Hester s, both emotionally and physically. Dimmesdale would whip and beat himself as a form of repentance. Also, he would stay up way into the night standing on the scaffold as he struggled to gain the nerve to admit his wrongdoing. It pained Dimmesdale as he gave sermons where he talked so scornfully of his own behavior. It also hurt Dimmesdale when the townspeople would speak of how righteous and holy he was. All of the internal suffering that Dimmesdale endured proved to be much worse then Hester s public punishment. By taking this emotional punishment, Dimmesdale demonstrates the aftermath of sin when one does not admit their crime. This contrasts with Hester as she illustrates a completely contrary punishment.
Throughout Hawthorne s The Scarlet Letter, the theme of sin and its consequences is demonstrated. Hester and Dimmesdale are the two characters that best display this theme. They both commit the same sin, but the way in which they each are punished is different. They both illustrate the theme of the effects of sin in completely different ways. Hester was publicly punished for her crime while Dimmesdale punished himself emotionally and physically. Both these characters, though in different ways, demonstrated the theme of the effects of sin.