The Sin of Hypocrisy in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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The Sin of Hypocrisy in The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is about the trials and

tribulations of Hester Prynne, a woman living in colonial Boston. Found

guilty of adultery, Hester's punishment is to wear a visible symbol of her

sin: the scarlet letter "A." Through the book, the reader comes to know

Hester, the adulteress; Dimmesdale, the holy man Hester had the affair

with; and Chillingworth, the estranged husband of Hester who is out for

revenge. The Scarlet Letter examines the interaction of these characters

and the reaction of these characters to Hester's sin. However, the

greater sin that Hawthorne deals with in The Scarlet Letter is

hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or

virtues that one does not hold or possess. All three main characters,

Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth, commit the sin of hypocrisy.

Hawthorne shows that hypocrisy is indeed a sin by punishing the offenders.

Hester Prynne is a strong, independent woman who deals with her sin of

adultery very well. Instead of running away from it, she lives with it and

accepts her punishment. However, while succumbing to the will of the court,

she does not for an instant truly believe that she sinned. Hester thinks

that she has not committed adultery because in her mind she wasn't really

married to Chillingworth. Hester believes that marriage is only valid when

there is love, and there is no love between Hester and Chillingworth. In

the prison, defending her actions against him, she declares, "Thou knowest,

thou knowest that I was frank with thee. I felt no love, nor feigned any"

(74). Then, later, speaking to Dimmesdale, Hester further imparts her

belief that she has not sinned, saying, "What we did had a consecration of

its own. We felt it so" (192). Therefore, Hester, in her mind, has not

committed a sin. The fact that she accepts the courts decision so meekly

and wears the scarlet letter denoting her as an adulteress is the first

way in which she is hypocritical. Hester, although she does not believe

she has sinned, portrays herself as a sinner by wearing the scarlet letter

without complaint. Over the ensuing years, Hester endures the shame and

ridicule brought about by the scarlet letter. However, the true source of
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