Hypocrisy In The Scarlet Letter Essay Research

Hypocrisy In The Scarlet Letter Essay, Research Paper The Scarlet H The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is about the trials and tribulations of Hester Prynne, a woman living in colonial Boston. Found

Hypocrisy In The Scarlet Letter Essay, Research Paper

The Scarlet H

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is about the trials and

tribulations of Hester Prynne, a woman living in colonial Boston. Found

guilty of adultery, Hester’s punishment is to wear a visible symbol of her sin:

the scarlet letter “A.” Through the book, the reader comes to know Hester,

the adulteress; Dimmesdale, the holy man Hester had the affair with; and

Chillingworth, the estranged husband of Hester who is out for revenge. The

Scarlet Letter examines the interaction of these characters and the reaction

of these characters to Hester’s sin. Although Hester’s sin is at first supposed

to be adultery, in fact adultery is just one of the many bases Hawthorne

could use to build the story around. The underlying sin that Hawthorne

deals with in The Scarlet Letter is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the practice of

professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess. All

three main characters, Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth, commit the

sin of hypocrisy. Hawthorne shows that hypocrisy is indeed a sin by

punishing the offenders.

Hester Prynne is a strong, independent woman who deals with her sin

of adultery very well. Instead of running away from it, she lives with it and

accepts her punishment. However, while succumbing to the will of the court,

she does not for an instant truly believe that she sinned. Hester thinks that

she has not committed adultery because in her mind she wasn’t really

married to Chillingworth. Hester believes that marriage is only valid when

there is love, and there is no love between Hester and Chillingworth. In the

prison, defending her actions against him, she declares, “Thou knowest, thou

knowest that I was frank with thee. I felt no love, nor feigned any” (74).

Then, later, speaking to Dimmesdale, Hester further imparts her belief that

she has not sinned, saying, “What we did had a consecration of its own. We

felt it so” (192). Therefore, Hester, in her mind, has not committed a sin.

The fact that she accepts the courts decision so meekly and wears the scarlet

letter denoting her as an adulteress is the first way in which she is

hypocritical. Hester, although she does not believe she has sinned, portrays

herself as a sinner by wearing the scarlet letter without complaint. Over the

ensuing years, Hester endures the shame and ridicule brought about by the

scarlet letter. However, the true source of the shame and ridicule is not

adultery, but her own sin of hypocrisy. If Hester had not been hypocritical, if

she had instead told the townspeople how she truly felt, then perhaps she

would have earned their respect and not have forced to undergo the

humiliation and punishment of the scarlet letter. Hester’s acceptance of a

false sin is not the only hypocritical act she carries out. Another way in

which Hester is hypocritical is her agreement with Chillingworth to keep his

name a secret. Hester, even though she claims to love Dimmesdale, agrees

with Chillingworth to keep Chillingworth’s name and mission secret (76).

Hester is responsible for the pain that Chillingworth causes Dimmesdale,

because she allows him to enter Dimmesdale’s house without warning


Arthur Dimmesdale, Hester’s partner in adultery, is another character

who is punished for his hypocrisy. Dimmesdale is a minister, one whom the

people look up to for guidance and direction. The people consider him almost

sinless, the perfect model which to follow. The townspeople thought of him

as “a true priest, a true religionist, with the reverential sentiment largely

developed, and an order of mind that impelled itself powerfully along the

track of creed” (120). Believing himself to have committed the grave sin of

adultery, Dimmesdale’s responsibility is to step down from his clerical

position or at least admit his sin to the public. Instead, Dimmesdale hides

his sin and actually uses Hester’s sin in his sermons. A “true priest” would

not hide his sin from his congregation, as Dimmesdale does. The fact that

Dimmesdale hides his own sin while expounding on Hester’s sin, which is

actually the same, makes Dimmesdale a hypocrite. Dimmesdale is not only

hypocritical to his congregation, but to Hester as well. Dimmesdale commits

an act of adultery with Hester. He does so secure in the knowledge that he

loved her, and she loved him. However, when it comes time to pay for their

actions, Dimmesdale declines. Dimmesdale refuses to climb the scaffold with

Hester to acknowledge the sin. Dimmesdale, although professing his love for

her, refuses to be associated with her. Hester explains this to Pearl, saying

“[Dimmesdale] will be there, child. But he will not greet thee to-day” (224).

Dimmesdale’s refusal to be associated with Hester is cowardly, as is his

refusal to climb the scaffold. It is hypocritical because he claims to love her,

but he wants to keep that love secret.

Roger Chillingworth, the husband of Hester Prynne, is the third

character who commits the sin of hypocrisy. Chillingworth’s hypocrisy is

directed towards the practice of medicine. All doctors are supposed to care

for their patients, according to the Hippocratic Oath. Chillingworth, a doctor,

should adhere to this oath, but instead he breaks his vows and consciously

uses his skill to hurt his patient, Dimmesdale. For Chillingworth, it is a

matter of revenge, but that does not justify his betrayal of the vows which he

took. Boasting to Hester, Chillingworth relates how he enjoyed torturing his

patient (168). When Hester asks him if he hasn’t tortured poor Dimmesdale

enough, Chillingworth responds, “No! — no! — He has but increased the debt!”

(169). The fact that Chillingworth takes pleasure in his patient’s discomfort

while at the same time claiming to be a physician of the highest caliber

makes Chillingworth a hypocrite. He is punished by Hawthorne for his

hypocrisy. Hawthorne makes Chillingworth deformed, both physically and

mentally. Chillingworth has been gnarled with age, but his mental condition

is worse. He has turned into a man bent on revenge, with no regard for

anything except sating his thirst for revenge. Chillingworth proceeds to lay

blame of his own present deformities on Dimmesdale. According to

Chillingworth, it is Dimmesdale’s fault that he, Chillingworth, is a “fiend.”

Aside from being hypocritical towards his medicine, Chillingworth is

hypocritical regarding Hester as well. Chillingworth admits to Hester that

he is to blame for their poor marriage. He says,

It was my folly!. The world had been so cheerless! My heart

was a habitation large enough for many guests, but lonely and

chill, and without a household fire. I longed to kindle one!.

And so, Hester, I drew thee into my heart, into its innermost

chamber, and sought to warm thee by the warmth which thy

presence made there! (74).

Chillingworth goes on to admit that he has no desire for vengeance against

Hester: “I seek no vengeance, plot no evil against thee. Between thee and

me, the scale hangs fairly balanced” (74). Later on, Chillingworth shows that

he was lying when he says “I have left thee to the scarlet letter. If that have

not avenged me, I can do no more!” (169). Chillingworth, despite what he

said earlier, had been avenging himself not only on Dimmesdale, but on

Hester as well, demonstrating again the lying, hypocritical ways he practices.

Through the punishment of the three main characters, Hester,

Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth, Hawthorne clearly shows that hypocrisy is

a sin meriting terrible punishment. The sin of adultery, for which Hester is

branded, is not the true sin in The Scarlet Letter. Rather, it is just one

possible sin that can lead the sinner and those involved into the treacherous

depths of hypocrisy, the true sin of The Scarlet Letter.