Resolution of Sin in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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Resolution of Sin in The Scarlet Letter

Hester Prynne is a young, beautiful woman who was sent to Boston by her husband who planned to join her but was persumed lost at sea. She looked to Arthur Dimmesdale for comfort and spiritual guidance. Their solace became passion and resulted in the sin of adultery and the birth of their daughter, Pearl. This sin had a huge impact on them and changed their lives forever. It is what the book The Scarlet Letter is all about and how different the characters dealt with it.

Hester Prynne has a strength of character. She is very honest so she openly acknowledges her sin. Hester stands on the scaffold, exposed to public humiliation, and wears a scarlet letter on her dress for the rest of her life as a sign of shame. Her beauty and warmth go away, buried under the burden of the elaborate scarlet letter on her bosom. Hester settles in a cottage at the edge of town, lives a somber life with her daughter, and earns a living with her needlework. She has to bear the contempt of the townspeople and she has nothing but her strength of spirit to sustain her.

Dimmesdale has not the strength of Hester, or her honesty, so he cannot stand alone to confess. He is a good minister and his effectiveness betrays his desire to confess. Sin and agony have enabled Dimmesdale to recognize and empathize with other sinners, but still his congregation loves him, and this tortures him even more! Dimmesdale struggles with his knowledge of his sin, his inability to disclose it to Puritan society, and his desire for penance. In an attempt to seek salvation he fasts until he faints and whips himself until he bleeds. These punishments are done in private and do not provide the cleansing Dimmesdale seeks and needs.

The life of public repentance, although bitter and difficult, helps Hester retain her good sanity while Dimmesdale seems to be losing his. His agonized suffering is the direct result of his inability to disclose his sin. Hester's ex-husband also tortures Dimmesdale very badly because of his jealousy. Dimmesdale becomes very ill as a result of his unconfessed sin.
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