, Research Paper
Evil in the Heart of Man
Evil is the nature of mankind, says the devil in the supernatural tale of Young Goodman Brown, which is written by one of the first men to publish a book based on symbolism. This man is named Nathaniel Hawthorne, whom is most famous for writing the masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter. This quote that Hawthorne has put into Young Goodman Brown, reflects his deeper meaning and the whole plot of the fore-mentioned, The Scarlet Letter. In this novel, there are three main characters who commit evil and sinful acts, but each act is at a different degree of sinfulness (i.e. the sins get worse as the story goes a-long). These three sinners [in the eyes of the Puritan community] are: the beautiful Hester Prynne, the esteemed Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, and the cold-hearted doctor, Roger Chillingworth. Like Hawthorne I believe that evil is the nature of man but that there are different magnitudes of evil; some choose to fight it, like Hester, and some choose to give in, like Chillingworth.
Hester Prynne, a strong willed and brave woman, in respect to the two additional people, has committed the least amount of sin in the novel. In the eyes of the Puritan community, though, she has committed one of the worst possible sins that can be imagined: adultery. Though, in their eyes, she is horrendously corrupt, it is not truly her fault. Hester is the victim of her husband, Roger Chillingworth s (formerly Roger Prynne) stupidity by sending her to New England by herself, while he remained in Europe. Chillingworth even admitted that it was his fault when he voiced It was my folly! I have said it. But, up to that epoch of my life, I have lived in vain. (Ch.4, p. 68) Hester is also a victim of fate; when Chillingworth is captured by the Indians when he arrives in North America, Hester has no way of knowing if he is alive or dead. But in fact, she still goes against the strict Puritan rules, and breaks Commandment 7, which was often punished by death.
Arthur Dimmesdale; a strong pillar of the community, and a very devoted Puritan, what could he do that is worse than young Hester Prynne s appalling act of adultery? Well he goes a little further into the same sin; first of all, he commits adultery with the abandoned Hester, and instead of admitting his sin to the public, he keeps his dark secret in his heart, much like an unwanted reminder of the past that you would put in the closet to hide, but it you always know it s still there. The only thing worse in the Puritans eyes than committing a terrible sin, is keeping the sin from being admitted. They believed it darkened the soul, and it did; it almost turned Dimmesdale into an evil shell of a man. The Puritans also wanted the sinning people of the congregation to admit their sin, so that they could punish that person, almost as if they were playing God. Dimmesdale did get punished, but it was in private. First he punishes himself by whipping himself, then he allows Chillingworth to torment him with comments that make him feel guilty until the point of going crazy.
Dimmesdale is also an evil man because he is a man of God, but cannot bring up the strength to admit openly that he has had an affair with Hester. His weakness is the reason he is more evil than Hester. Dimmesdale doesn t want to admit that he sinned against God, whom he is usually such a great servant to. Dimmesdale strives to be perfect, but because of the sinful act of passion that he has committed, his record for God has been tarnished forever. After seven long years of struggle though, Dimmesdale does triumph over his weakness, at the day he predicted, the day he would die; judgment day.
Finally, the deformed scholar, whose intellect gives him the title of the most evil and sinful person in the book, Roger Chillingworth. At first Chillingworth seem to be more sinned against than a sinner, after all, he was held captive by the Indians for a year, and then returns to civilization and sees his wife standing on the town scaffold telling him to pretend he doesn t know her. By mid-way through the novel, the audience s view of the character changes dramatically. The major turning point is when we find out to what extent Chillingworth will go through to find personal information about his patient, Dimmesdale. Hawthorne describes it as The physician advanced directly in front of his patient, laid his hand upon his bosom, and thrust aside the vestment, that, hitherto, had always covered it even from the professional eye. (Ch.10 p.121) Chillingworth really commits two major sins. His first sin is against Hester. He committed it when he married her and took away her youth; he admits : Mine was the first wrong, when I betrayed thy budding youth into a false and unnatural relation with my decay. (Ch.4 p.68-69)
Chillingworth s second, and far more evil sin, is that of tricking the heart and using a friendship to sacrifice a fellow man to gratify his own selfishness. What Chillingworth does is befriend the good Reverend and become his doctor. Chillingworth notices that something more than physical is wrong with him and he starts to dig deeper and deeper until he finds what he is looking for, but not without tearing up Dimmesdale s life. As Chillingworth probes deeper into Dimmesdale s life, he becomes more and more like a devil. Hawthorne illustrates this event when he remarks 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. (Ch.9 p.112) By Chapter 14, Chillingworth s transformation seems to be complete, and Chillingworth becomes aware of what has happened; it is too late to change who he is and who he has become.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the worst sinner and the most evil is old Roger Chillingworth. He is like this because he is evil. Everyone is evil, but there are different levels of sin and evil. The quote that brings the whole book together is one where Hester and Reverend Dimmesdale are in the woods and they are discussing the magnitude of their sin. Dimmesdale comments to Hester We are not, Hester, the worst sinners in the world. There is one worse than even the polluted priest! That old man s revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester, never did so. (Ch.17 p.170)