An Unnatural Family as the Punishment for Sin in Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter

An Unnatural Family as the Punishment for Sin in Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter

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In an introductory paragraph to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works, Perkins and Perkins say that “Hawthorne elevated some of the darkest events of the colonial period and transformed them into universal themes and questions”(Perkins 433). One of these themes is that of the penalty of sin. In Romans 6:23, Paul says that “the wages of sin is death” and Hawthorne seems to share this view, or at least some version of it. This view is prevalent in his novel The Scarlet Letter. In it, the penalty for Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale’s sin is a family that is disfigured and unnatural.
Dimmesdale, the “father” in this family shies away from his patriarchal duties and stands by while he lets Hester do all of the work regarding Pearl. First of all, Dimmesdale is absent for the majority of Pearl’s life. He is present in the town but hardly ever sees Pearl, even though she is his daughter. He says that Pearl has, only “twice in her little lifetime” shown kindness to him(Hawthorne Ch.19). Out of seven entire years, Dimmesdale and Pearl have shared only two meaningful moments together. Dimmesdale has obviously shied away from his duties as a father to Pearl. Even though she is illegitimate, it is his responsibility to help raise her. He also does not deal with Pearl directly when she is acting like a crazed animal. He implores Hester to calm her, telling Hester to “pacify her,” through any means to show him “if thou lovest me!”(Hawthorne Ch. 19). Hawthorne uses specific images through the words of his characters to show how much Dimmesdale is shying away from his responsibilities as a father. As a father, Dimmesdale should be raising his child to become a contributing member of the Puritan society in Massachusetts. Instead of doing this, Dimmesd...


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..., but this is exactly what Pearl does over both Hester and Dimmesdale.
Clearly, during the forest scene, Hawthorne is giving the reader a sense of how unnatural this family that came from a single adulterous act is. It sheds light on Hawthorne’s romantic views because it shows how an unnatural family is detestable. In a much more broad sense, it gives the reader a glimpse of Hawthorne’s own personal theology. He firmly believes in severe consequences for sin and it shows in his novel.


Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. 1850. New York: Bantam Dell, 2003. Print
Perkins, George, and Barbara Perkins. “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” The American Tradition in Literature. Ed. Perkins and Perkins. 12th ed. Concise ed. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2007. 433-36. Print.
The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996. Print.

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