Sin In The Scarlet Letter Essay, Research Paper
Sin is the main theme in The Scarlet Letter. All of the characters in the book are somehow affected by the sin of adultery. The three main characters are the most widely affected, and their whole lives are molded by the way they deal with the sin. The sin surrounds, encloses, and strangles them. There is no escaping from its harsh consequences. For Chillingworth, the terrible wrongdoing molds his whole personality in its likeness. For Dimmesdale, it totally deteriorates him both physically and mentally. On the other hand, for Hester, it has freed her soul from the chains of confinement in the old, Puritan town where she lived.
Hester Prynne’s sin, adultery, brings upon her the penalty of wearing the scarlet letter “A”. Her scarlet token liberates her more than it punishes her. First, Hester s soul is freed by her admission of her crime. Secondly, by enduring her earthly punishment, Hester is assured of a place in the heavens. Finally, her identity is defined by the ignominious A , for the letter makes Hester the woman that she is; it gives her roots, character, and a uniqueness to her being that sets her apart from the other Puritans. The scarlet letter is indeed a blessing to Hester Prynne, more than the curse she believes the letter has bestowed upon her.
Hester feels that her sin has taken away her morality and manifested the one good product of her shameful wrongdoing, her baby, Pearl. Although she shows dignity and pride when she first steps out of the prison and stands upon the scaffold, the “A” unfamilarizes and separates her from the community, making her stand alone with her child as she does for most of her life following this event. Shunned by everyone from that time on, Hester is to live away from the community with her baby, Pearl. The sin Hester has committed has made her think that death would be an easy way out and that she deserves little, for she says, “I have thought of death, have wished for it, would have even prayed for it, were it fit that such as I should pray for anything” (77). Throughout the next years, the sin Hester committed changes her personality and identity. Once a beautiful woman, Hester now looks plain and drab. Once passionate, she is now somber and serious. She had contained a precious quality of womanhood that has now faded away. Her plain gray clothes symbolize her temperament and disposition. However, the sin also has some good effects on her. She becomes more giving and caring, and is endlessly helping the poor and sick and doing favors for neighbors. Hester feels that she owes it to the community, thus forcing herself into a life of service to others. The sin is always with her, for when she leaves her town, she feels obligated to come back and fulfill her punishment. The sin makes her lifestyle worse, but it changes her character somewhat for the better. Adultery, however, does not have the same effect on Hester s counterpart, Reverend Dimmesdale.
Arthur Dimmesdale, a reverend in the Puritan Church, is the other half of the major sin and the father of Pearl. Be that as it may, there are differences in the effects of the sin on Dimmesdale as opposed to Hester. Dimmesdale does not confess until seven years after the crime takes place. On top of the scaffold, in front of the whole town, Dimmesdale exclaims, I stand upon this spot where, seven years since, I should have stood (237). Dimmesdale should have been with Hester seven years ago, but though he never receives a punishment from the government as Hester does, he punishes himself day and night. He is tortured with guilt in his heart, and carries out prolonged vigils, fasts, and other physical damage to himself. As all things do, this physical and mental stress takes its toll. Over the seven years, Dimmesdale becomes very ill. He becomes pale, nervous and sickly. After a while, it gets to the point where he uses a cane to walk, and people are afraid for his life. The reason for his illness is not disease, but the effect of sin and guilt in his heart. Finally, after putting himself through a living hell for seven years, Dimmesdale’s dying words are his confession. Clearly, the sin affected Dimmesdale s life, but the sin played an even greater role in the life of the man that was truly shaped by this huge transgression.
Roger Chillingworth comes to Boston to seek out his wife, Hester Prynne. When he arrives, she is standing on a scaffold with a baby in her arms. The first thing he says is, “It irks me, nevertheless, that the partner of her iniquity should not, at least, stand on the scaffold by her side. But he will be known! – He will be known! – He will be known!” (69). This foreshadows the sin that he commits, which is far greater than Hester’s and Dimmesdale’s. Chillingworth devotes his entire life to finding Hester’s partner in crime and punishing him. He suspects Dimmesdale and so becomes his doctor and moves in with him. Once he is certain that the reverend is Hester s counterpart, he keeps him alive to live in agony. The effect of his great sin on his character is that of a complete transformation to evil. His physical characteristics become twisted and corrupt, as does his soul and life purpose. His one-track mind leads him to eventual self-deterioration. He is the worst sinner in the book and once his transformation is complete, there is no turning back.
The way sin affects the lives of the characters in The Scarlet Letter is enlightening yet unsettling. One can see why the characters act they way they do, but it’s unsettling to see that sin envelopes them in a cloud of distrust, malice, and degradation. Hawthorne, throughout the novel, tries to show his audience that sin has always been and will always be a part of human life and literature. As long as there is sin, people will react to it differently; some will hide it, some will embrace it, some will rot from it. Nonetheless, no matter how the sin is handled or dealt with, it will always leave its mark.