"No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without finally becoming bewildered as to which may be true”. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, this quote applies to the two main characters of the novel. It applies to Arthur Dimmesdale in a literal way; he clearly is not the man that he appears to be, and the guilt that goes along with such deception consumes his entire life. The quote also applies to Hester Prynne, but in quite a different way because it was not her choice to wear the “face” that she was forced to wear. The mark of the scarlet letter on her bosom determined how others perceived her and, in turn, how she was expected to perceive herself. At first, Hester did not consider the sin that she committed as blasphemous and horrible as the people of Boston did, but she was forced to wear the “face” of a sinner.
Neither Hester or Arthur could live their lives concealing their true emotions. Arthur literally could not live with it, while Hester changed the way she felt on the inside to correspond to her guilty external image. At the court house, when Arthur Dimmesdale was pleading for Hester to reveal the name of the man with whom she had an affair, it was clear that a part of him actually wanted everyone to know that it was he who was the guilty one.
Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place...better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life…(47).
When this plea is made, it appears to be quite ironic. The man who participated in the sin is trying to convince his accomplice to do him in. However, this ...
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...t with the sin in a completely different way not only because she was a different person, but because there was no additional weight of a secret that went along with the sin. Instead of trying to figure out her identity, the way Arthur had, and clinging onto the belief that what she had done was not a sin, she allowed herself to surrender and believe what the rest of society believed at that time. The people of Boston saw adultery as a sin, and there was no way that any good or love could come out of it. When Arthur's character is tested, he struggles to find the answer but is unable to, and literally dies trying. Hester, on the other hand, does not give such a noble attempt, but rather chooses, whether consciously or not, to go along with society’s views of adultery.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
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