Scarlet Letter Essay

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“Burn the witch!” has been a condemning cry for centuries, but those flames are not always real. Words, looks, and guilt can burn a sinner far more effectively than the pyre ever could, as evidenced by the torments inflicted on the sinners in The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Each of the characters was burned in a different way, just as they represent different types of sin. Hester Prynne, the adulteress, represents open, acknowledged, and public shame. Through her, we recognize that acknowledging sin eventually leads to forgiveness and healing, in contrast with Reverend Dimmesdale, who represents the festering wound of concealed sin. And the depraved man who seems to be sent to torment them both, Roger Chillingworth, represents revenge, and punishment for sin. Hester Prynne, who wears the Scarlet Letter, has her ignominy before the whole world. Her scarlet A reminds both Hester and everyone else that she is an adulteress. Much of The Scarlet Letter talks about her treatment at the hands of the townspeople, because her transgressions are out in the open, and they can punish her. On the other end of the spectrum is the Reverend Dimmesdale, who fairly goes mad from guilt. Every person considers him a godly, amazing man, while he has actually sinned as much as Hester. His concealed sin eats away at him, and he constantly wishes that he would be brave enough to confess. Some of Dimmesdale’s torments are the cause of Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s former husband. Through Chillingworth, Hawthorne reveals the evilness of revenge. He also represents the punishment for Hester and Dimmesdale’s sin, and is a physical manifestation of their torment. At the same time, Chillingworth is both revenge and punishment. And in addit...

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... Chillingworth is the representation of the punishment that falls on all sinners. Hester, whose daughter and Scarlet Letter are always reminding everyone of her adultery, is always in the open, and has no chance to hide her shame. Dimmesdale, who calls himself a pollution and is so tormented on the inside that he feels the need to physically harm himself by scourging, is eaten from the inside out, and Roger Chillingworth, whom one just saw is a vengeful monster, who swears revenge on the father, and who lives for that single purpose, truly is retribution. These people are tormented by the type of sin they portray, and their punishments last so long, and are so painful (especially in Hester and Dimmesdale’s cases) that anyone could easily make the argument that the literal flames, and the stake that accompanies them, would be preferable punishments for these sinners.
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