Guilt and Shame in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

analytical Essay
1108 words
1108 words

Guilt and shame haunt all three of the main characters in The Scarlet Letter, but how they each handle their sin will change their lives forever. Hester Prynne’s guilt is publicly exploited. She has to live with her shame for the rest of her life by wearing a scarlet letter on the breast of her gown. Arthur Dimmesdale, on the other hand, is just as guilty of adultery as Hester, but he allows his guilt to remain a secret. Instead of telling the people of his vile sin, the Reverend allows it to eat away at his rotting soul. The shame of what he has done slowly kills him. The last sinner in this guilty trio is Rodger Chillingworth. This evil man not only hides his true identity as Hester’s husband, but also mentally torments Arthur Dimmesdale. The vile physician offers his ‘help’ to the sickly Reverend, but he gives the exact opposite. Chillingworth inflicts daily, mental tortures upon Arthur Dimmesdale for seven long years, and he enjoys it. Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth are all connected by their sins and shame, but what they do in regards to those sins is what sets them apart from each other.

When Hester Prynne becomes pregnant without her husband, she is severely punished by having to endure public humiliation and shame for her adulterous actions. Hester is forced to wear a scarlet “A”on her breast for the rest of her life. (1.) She lives as an outcast. At first, Hester displays a defiant attitude by boldly march from prison towards the pillory. However, as time goes on, the public humiliation of her sin weighs heavily upon her soul. “An accustomed eye had likewise it’s own aguish to inflict. It’s cool stare of familiarity was intolerable. From first to last, in short, Hester Prynne had always th...

... middle of paper ...

...ld. Chillingworth becomes so evil and cruel in his treatment of Arthur that it would have been better for the Reverend to die.

Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth are all sinners, but they each handle their guilt in different ways. Hester tries to earn forgiveness by acts of service. Dimmesdale allows his guilt to build up to the point that it kills him. Chillingworth becomes obsessed with getting revenge. None of them receive the benefit of forgiveness. There is no true redemption, because there is no Savior in The Scarlet Letter. Without a merciful, loving, and gracious Savior, there can not be forgiveness of sin and reconciliation of broken relationships. This barren hopelessness leaves the characters desperate, alone, and in need of a Rescuer.

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. Print.

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how hester prynne, arthur dimmesdale, and rodger chillingworth are connected by their sins and shame.
  • Analyzes how hester prynne suffers public humiliation and shame for her adulterous actions when she becomes pregnant without her husband.
  • Analyzes how hester's scarlet letter reminds her daily of her guilt, and her illegitimate child pearl. she doesn't hide pearl, but she shows her child off to the world.
  • Analyzes how hester is publicly punished and shamed for their shared sin, but arthur keeps his involvement a secret. instead of confessing to the community, he lets his shameful deed eat away at his heart, soul, and body.
  • Analyzes how dimmesdale's inward guilt destroys the reverend, making him a feeble, sick, old man. hester and arthur aren't the only people in the scarlet letter guilty of wicked sin.
  • Analyzes how roger chillingworth hides his disgrace of having a disloyal wife and finds pleasure in tormenting the poor arthur dimmesdale. hester promises not to tell anyone that he is her real husband.
  • Opines that chillingworth is a cruel and twisted man, responsible for the daily, mental torture of rev. arthur dimmesdale.
  • Analyzes how chillingworth eats away at the reverend's very being, always searching arthur’s mind for a hint at his suspected, adulterous transgression.
  • Analyzes how hester, dimmesdale, and chillingworth are all sinners, but they each handle their guilt in different ways. there is no true redemption, because there's no savior in the scarlet letter.
Get Access