Guilt in the Scarlet Letter

Guilt in the Scarlet Letter

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Effects of Guilt
Guilt is a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, whether real or imagined. There are different types of guilt. Guilt can be caused by a physical thing a person did that he isn’t proud of, or wanted to hide, can be something a person imagined he did to someone or something else, or can be caused when a person did something to his God or religion. Everyone at some time in his or her life has a run in with guilt, and it has a different impact on each person. People, who are feeling guilty because of something they did or said, can influence how other people act and feel. Some people are affected worse by guilt than others, for example, Dimmesdale from The Scarlet Letter. Talked about in The Scarlet Letter, Dimmesdale, a man with the deepest guilt, was responsible for the moral well-being of his people. He went against his teachings, committed adultery, and left the woman to suffer publicly alone while he stayed like a hero in the town. On the other hand, sometimes the masses are affected by one person’s guilt. He was affected much more by guilt, because he didn’t tell anyone of what he had done. By keeping guilt internalized, a person ultimately ends up hurting himself. More than seventy percent of all things that make people feel guilty are found out later on in their life by other people. Guilt has three categories that it affects the most in people: physical, mental, and spiritual.
Physical effects of guilt can be major or minor depending on the person. Some people get sick from guilt. For example, in The Scarlet Letter it says, ‘a bodily disease, which we look upon as whole and entire within itself, May, after all but a symptom of some ailment in the spiritual part.’ (93) Guilt can take a toll on the people a person loves. Although a person wants to protect them, his guilty symptoms may upset loved ones even if he does not want it too. Dimmesdale loved Hester, the woman he committed adultery with, but hid his sin from the people while she could not. Subsequently, Dimmesdale hurt the one he loved and guilt overcame him during the story making him sick, pale, restless, and lacking energy.

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Due to the fact that he internalized his guilt, he experienced massive physical transformation by keeping it all to himself. Guilt got to him and reflected on the masses and his loved ones. In the end, Dimmesdale, after confessing his sin and guilt to his people, dies from his sickness. Sometimes, guilt can be like a knife in a person’s back or a dog chomping on a bone. In either case, guilt just gnaws away at it until there is nothing left of what was there to start with. Fortunately, people can stop the physical part of guilt like any other part of guilt. All that has to be done is to tell someone that can be trusted, and that will provide comfort so the person doesn’t feel as weighed down by the stress of guilty feelings. If a person keeps the guilt in, he is only hurting himself more and more every day he does it. In The Scarlet Letter it says, ‘Dimmesdale becomes more successful in the eyes of his followers, yet more and more physically ill due to his inner torment and corruption.”(19) He led his people as a corrupted man instead of telling the truth, and it caused his death and pain to his loved ones. The worst physical effect of guilt is death itself.
Mental effects of guilt are just as bad as physical. Guilt puts a lot of stress on a person, and stress can lead to additional symptoms. For example, stress from guilt can lead to depression, anxiety, and mental break down. Also, it can lead a person to doing things he would not normally do. The longer guilt is held in the more stress builds up in a person until eventually craziness takes over. Guilt can literally make a person crazy because of all the stress put on that person’s mind and body. In The Scarlet Letter Dimmesdale says, “what is it that haunts and tempts me thus?’(151) Over the seven year period in the book The Scarlet Letter, Demmesdale slowly becomes more and more mentally ill from his guilt that is tearing him apart from the inside out. His mental guilt is part of his physical illness too. In some cases, mental instability can make a person think he is physically sick and actually causes a person to have symptoms of that sickness. This does not mean he is actually sick. A person’s body is just responding to what it strongly believes is happing to itself. Consequently, a person can develop many different mental illnesses from guilt. Some people end up in mental hospitals for the rest of their lives because of the grip that guilt has on them. Some, on the other hand, end up in mental hospitals for only a short amount of time or have to seek the aid of a counselor or psychiatrist. Guilt ruins people’s lives by making them go crazy which in turn makes them do things they would not normally do. Similarly, guilt can cause people to feel isolated and alone because they don’t want other people to know what they have done. Eventually, the mental instability will cause other transformations of guilt such as physical and spiritual.
Spiritual effects of guilt can come from physical or mental events in a person’s life. This goes hand in hand with mental ailments, because when people are mentally ill they sometimes don’t think clearly. Things go wrong for them, and they blame it on their God and the people around them. This in turn causes people to stop believing in their God and stop believing in anything at all. When things go wrong in peoples’ lives they want to blame someone else because they can not understand why it happens. It makes people do things that give them more guilt, which causes people to blame their God even more for something He did not do. Every year, guilt causes more and more lost souls, because believers become nonbelievers. In The Scarlet Letter Dimmesdale says, “God Knows; He is merciful; he hath proved his mercy most of all, in my affliction.”(175-176) this quote shows that just because things go bad in a person’s life does not mean it is God’s fault. People can not blame their religion or their God for what has happened to them in their life. If they do, they will plummet to the bottom with out Him. Finally, guilt is the cause of a lot of problems for people, and the worst of them is losing ones faith condemning one to a life of damnation.
Guilt affects everyone sometime in their life. Some people deal with it while others suffer from it. They should let their guilt be known so they can start on the road to recovery. If they don’t, they will become alone and mentally ill from it. As a result, guilt is one of the biggest problems in the world. That is because everyone is affected by it. People’s guilt not only has an impact on their own lives, but it impacts everyone around them including people they know and people they don’t know. Subsequently, people should deal with the guilt, so the problem does not get so big that it ruins their life and the lives around them. Owning up to their own troubles, will help them to recover and will give them fewer things to try to blame God with during their life. Even when guilt is confessed, a person may still face difficult times. For example, a man cheats on his wife. When he finally gets the nerve to tell her, she slaps him and divorces him. This hurts a lot, and it’s because he cheated on her. What the man does not understand is that he hurt her more than he was ever hurt in that one moment. The guilt would have been worse to deal with seeing her every day knowing that he cheated on her even though she loved him. It would tear him apart inside. In summary, guilt is a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, whether real or imagined. To alleviate this ugly affect of guilt on the world, the best thing to do is to not do the guilty act in the first place; however, if people find themselves in a guilty predicament, confess the sin, ask for forgiveness, and wait for life to heal them.

Works Cited

“God knows; he is merciful! He hath proved his mercy most of all, in my affliction…” The Scarlet Letter page (175-176)

‘A bodily disease, which we look upon as whole and entire within itself, May, after all but a symptom of some ailment in the spiritual part.’ The Scarlet Letter page (93)

“Dimmesdale becomes more successful in the eyes of his followers, yet more and more physically ill due to his inner torment and corruption.” List of Characters page (19)

“What is it that haunts and tempts me thus?’ The Scarlet Letter page (151)
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