The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Why are human beings tempted to conceal their transgressions? Is it for the fear of punishment or the loss of one’s standing with the public? In the insightful novel The Scarlet Letter, a seventeenth-century Boston minister named Arthur Dimmesdale committed, in the eyes of the townsfolk, the most evil of sins: adultery. Unlike his partner in this offense, Hester Prynne, he did not accept responsibility for his crime; instead he veiled his infraction of the Puritan law from the populace of Boston. As a consequence of his attempt to hide the truth, Minister Dimmesdale felt the guilt course through him, and that inner feeling of remorse caused his health to decline, his speeches to feel hypocritical, and his belief in the Lord’s mercy to waver. On the contrary, Hester’s shame revealed itself. With the public eye continually frowning upon her, she was punished thoroughly and accepted it. While both Hester and Dimmesdale committed the same transgression, each dealt with the offense in a different way, which foretold the condition of the rest of his/her life.

From the moment of her daughter’s birth, Hester felt the punishment of both God and the community of Boston. The magistrates spared her from the gallows, but in its place, she was required to wear a symbol of her crime at all times; this scarlet letter burnt constantly into her heart due to the harsh stares from the society and helped her to repent for her great sin. In addition to this daily degradation, she stood on the “platform of the pillory” and faced the stares of many townsfolk for hours (63). While the punishment of the public was immeasurable torture for her heart, Hester could not even find comfort in her baby daughter; Pearl, as the child was later named, cried in pai...

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...rtured by his hypocrisy (182). Only when he threw away all fear of punishment or shame and revealed his great offense before all the citizens, was he finally released of the agony.

In the Scarlet Letter, both Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale committed the crime of adultery. However, Hester chose to accept her punishment readily, while Arthur hid his sin. Accordingly, Hester’s offense was forgiven, but Dimmesdale’s punishment became even worse. Hester was blessed with a beautiful daughter, the town’s willingness to overlook her past, and an enormous fortune left by Roger Chillingworth. Meanwhile, Dimmesdale’s emotional agony, hypocrisy during his speeches, and declining health tortured him. On the whole, Hester withstood her punishment and was forgiven by God and the community of Boston, while Dimmesdale suffered immensely until he revealed the truth.
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