Puritan Hypocrisy Exposed in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter Essay

Puritan Hypocrisy Exposed in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter Essay

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Puritan Hypocrisy Exposed in The Scarlet Letter


   Throughout The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne repeatedly portrays the Puritanical views of sin and evil.  The Puritans are constantly displayed as believing that evil comes from an unyielding bond being formed between love and hate.  For such reasons they looked towards Hester's commitment of adultery as an action of pure, condemned evil.  However, through the use of light and dark imagery, Hawthorne displays who truly holds evil in their hearts.  The one who is the embodiment of evil creates hypocrisy of Puritanical views towards sin and evil.  Hawthorne displays that those who expose sin to the public and the daylight are the most pure and those who conceal their sin under a dark shadow are destined to be defeated.  Through his use of light and dark imagery and the contrast of his beliefs versus the beliefs of the Puritans, Hawthorne exposes the hypocritical beliefs of the Puritans by portraying Dimmesdale as destined for demise for concealing his sin, and ironically Hester the most pure for admitting her sin.

    The first description of Dimmesdale that Hawthorne presents to the reader is of Dimmesdale hiding his sin.  One Puritan says, speaking of Hester's sin, "Reverend Master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to heart that such a scandal have come upon his congregation" (38).  Immediately, Dimmesdale is shown to the readers as not only concealing his sin, but also being hypocritical in his condemnation of a sin that he himself has also committed.  On the very same page, Hawthorne speaks of the "dismal severity of the Puritanic code of law" (38).  From the beginning of The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses dismal, a dark and evil ...


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... thing that frees one of evil and shame is revealing his sin.  Hawthorne foreshadows the death and demise of Dimmesdale from the beginning of the book by keeping him cast in a dark shadow with an aching heart.  Hester was continuously condemned for her sin, although it was revealed through the light constantly burning upon her chest.  This illustrates the hypocrisy of the Puritan beliefs towards sin, for it was he who concealed his sin that was destined to be defeated by his ignominy, and she who was explicitly condemned that prospers and grows and is able to live a full, didactic life.

 

Sources

Hawthorne, Nathaniel.  The Scarlet Letter.  New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1980.

Bradford, William.  "The Errand of the Early Puritans."  Class handout.  March 2002.

Winthrop, John.  "Life in Puritan New England."  Class handout.  March 2002.

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