The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Is it acceptable to neglect one’s crimes and move on, or is it better to openly confess yourself in front of your peers? In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter, the main character, Arthur Dimmesdale, experiences both ends of the question. From initially disregarding the need to repent for his sin, his figure and character drastically change. By repenting in the wrong ways, Dimmesdale’s character continues to worsen until he finally publicly atones for his mistakes. Hawthorne’s views on the theme of repentance are embodied within the tragic and symbolic character of Dimmesdale, which he uses to demonstrate how repenting leads to a strong-willed and free being.

Hawthorne uses visual and auditory imagery and metaphor in Dimmesdale’s suffering to describe the emotional, mental, and physical consequences that develop from not repenting one’s sins. Approximately three years after the start of the novel, Reverend Dimmesdale begins to deteriorate. The people of the community noted that “his form grew emaciated; his voice, though still rich and sweet, had a certain melancholy prophecy of decay in it; he was often observed…to put his hand over his heart…indicative of pain (Hawthorne 117).” The visual imagery comes from the revernd’s “emaciated” “form”, depicting the devastation wreaked upon Dimmesdale’s body. The word “decay” gives a connotation of rotting and dying feelings in the reverend’s voice, which provides the auditory imagery. Hawthorne proves his point that because Dimmesdale chooses not to repent his secret sin, he undergoes a negative change in his figure. Alongside a transformation in appearance, Minister Dimmesdale suffers emotionally and mentally as well. “While…suffering under bodily disease, and gnawed and t...

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...esents the final chapters of the novel by having Dimmesdale finally atone for his long, hidden secret, and ultimately redeeming himself.

Despite the tragic ending of Dimmesdale’s life, Hawthorne demonstrates his perspectives on repentance, that doing so yields a free and strong-minded character. Because Dimmesdale neglected to make amends for his sins, he deteriorated on the inside and outside. In his attempts to atone, he still did not truly achieve penitence in the right way and continued to become unstable and weak. Before Dimmesdale’s last breath, he finally repented in front of his society, liberating himself from the evils of Chillingworth and his own self destruction. Upon that scaffold in his last moment, Dimmesdale did the most difficult task he had ever done, incriminate himself with Hester Prynne, the public symbol of ignominy in the Puritan community.
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