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Essay on A Perception of Sin: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter

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Through out the course of history, those who were considered sinners were often out casted from the society. This is much the case with Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. After a public trial, Hester is considered a sinner due to her birthing of a so called “devil child”. Hester is convicted to the life long bearing of a scarlet letter on her chest. The Scarlet Letter that Hester Prynne wears symbolizes the change in perception of sin through out the novel. Due to the revelations of the governor Winthrop and the reverend Dimmesdale, the way sin is perceived changes from one of shame to the idea that every one is a sinner in their own right.
In the beginning of the Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is standing on a scaffold, before puritan elders, being tried for adultery. The elders find her to be guilty and sentence her to the wearing of a scarlet letter on her chest for the rest of her life. The people of the town were angry and astonished that Hester, a fair young lady, had sinned. To sin was a shameful thing to do and thus, in the early chapters of the book, Hester’s scarlet letter is perceived as a mark of sin and shame. As time passed, Hester was often referred to by the “A” that symbolized her sin. When she went to the Governor’s home, the young puritan children who were playing saw her approaching and exclaimed “Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter…!” (Hawthorne 93) On one occasion, the scarlet “A” virtually hid Hester, so that all that could be seen of her was her mark of sin. “…the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance…she seemed absolutely hidden behind it.” (Hawthorne 97) For ...


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...at have deemed me holy! – behold me here, the one sinner of the world” (Hawthorne 227). The revelation of Dimmesdale shows the puritan people that everyone is a sinner in their own right makes it so that Hester is once again seen as Hester Prynne and not as the scarlet letter that she wears.
Through out Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the perception of sin changes many times. In the beginning, sin is a thing that only a shameful few people have, but by the end, thanks to Dimmesdale and Winthrop, the puritan community understands that every one is in fact a sinner. Hester Prynne goes from being an out cast of society and being named by her scarlet letter to being just like everyone else once again. Once she is accepted back into society, Hester continues to wear her scarlet letter because even though now it is no longer a symbol of sin, it is a symbol for Hester.


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