Chillingworth is the Greatest Sinner in The Scarlet Letter
The world of Puritan New England, like the world of today, was filled with many evil influences. Many people were able to withstand temptation, but some fell victim to the dark side. Such offences against God, in thought, word, deed, desire or neglect, are what we define as sin (Gerber 14).
In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the reader is able to observe how one sin devastates three lives. Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth are all guilty of succumbing to temptation, anger, and desire, causing all to fit the definition of a sinner. Yet, Chillingworth's iniquities raise him up above Hester and Dimmesdale on the level of diabolic acts.
From the very moment Chillingworth is introduced, he is deceitful towards the Puritan society. Chillingworth appears in the novel, seeming to know nothing of the scene at the scaffold. He asks of a townsperson: "...who is this woman? - and wherefore is she here to set up to public shame?" (Hawhtorne 67). Yet, we find in the next chapter that he indeed knows who Hester is, because Chillingworth is the lawful husband of her. He decieves the people of Boston to avoid the humiliation his wife brought upon him. In this respect, Chillingworth sins against the eight commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour" (Gerber 26).
Now, one could state that Hester also sins against the eighth commandment. She never reveals the name of her daughter's father. And it is stated that one must always tell the truth. Yet, it also states that one must keep a secret whenever asked to do so, and not say anything to damage another's reputation (Gerber 27). So Hester, in fact, did not sin. She n...
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...rth's crimes against the Lord are more malevolent than those committed by Hester and Reverend Dimmesdale. Chillingworth's quest for revenge and truth leads him down a path of sin, and in the Puritan perspective, down the path to Hell.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Baym, Nina. Introduction. The Scarlet Letter. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York City: Penguin Books USA, Inc. 1986.
Gerber, John C. "Form and Content in The Scarlet Letter." The Scarlet Letter: A Norton Critical Edition. Eds. Seymour Gross, Sculley Bradley, Richmond Croom Beatty, and E. Hudson Long. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1988.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Boston: Ticknor, 1850. 3 Nov. 1999
Smiles, Samuel. ""The Scarlet Letter."" The Critical Temper. Ed. Martin Tucker. New York City: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1962. 266.