Theme Of Penance In The Scarlet Letter

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The words penance and penitence are often associated together, and even sound similar, but it does not mean they have the same meaning. Penance is a punishment for a sin- a physical act showing repentance, but penitence is the feeling of sorrow for committing a sin. Therefore, it is possible to commit an oct of penance, but not truly feel penitence. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the main character, Hester Prynne is forced by her Puritan community to wear a lavishly decorated scarlet colored “A”, which stands for adulterer. It was her punishment for committing adultery, getting pregnant and having an illegitimate child with an unknown father, whilst married to another man. Later in the novel, it is revealed that the young, popular, devout, Puritan minister - Arthur Dimmesdale- is the father of Pearl, Hester’s…show more content…
Promptly after he dies, Hester flees with Pearl to places unknown to the narrator. In almost an epilogue ending, Hester returns many years later, alone, wearing her scarlet letter, for ambiguous reasons. There is a main theme in this novel, about the difference of completing penance and truly repenting. Hester served penance without true penitence, like Dimmesdale says he did. Hester only stayed in Boston because Dimmesdale was there. She’s content with living without God’s forgiveness, but was absolutely frantic about living without Dimmesdale’s. Even though she moved away and society didn’t know her sin, Pearl knew, and she was a more potent reminder than the physical letter itself. When she eventually returned, she came with the intention of true penitence, without leaning upon Dimmesdale or Pearl as a crutch or reminder; she does it on her own volition, taking her religion into her own hands. Instead of her prior belief of utter damnation, she makes up for lost time by truly
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