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The Effects of Sin Upon Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter
Hawthorn shows sins of several different kinds in numerous people, as well as the consequences and remedies of their sins. Three main characters; Hester Prynne, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth bare the most of these sins. Arthur Dimmesdale, however, bares the most brutal effects of such sin. This is due to several reasons.
The most observable reason for his eventual breakdown is the fact that he keeps his sin a secret. Arthur Dimmesdale's sin was the same as Hester's, except he never confessed. "As God's servant, it is his nature to tell the truth, so the years of pretending and hypocrisy were especially hard on him." (Bloom 28) Dimmesdale also believes that his sin has taken the meaning out of his life. His life's work has been dedicated to God, and now his sin has tainted it. He feels that he is a fraud and is not fit to lead the people of the town to salvation.
His secret guilt a much heavier burden than Hester's since he must hold it all within himself. This also reveals Dimmesdale weakness. Arthur wanted desperately to admit his sin to the world, which is shown throughout the book. The earliest incident was when he was asked to question Hester on the scaffold as to who the father of her child was:
"I charge thee to speak out the name of the thy fellow-sinner and fellow sufferer! Be not silent for any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart throughout life." (Hawthorne 67)
In this speech Dimmesdale is pleading for her to tell the name of the father, and fellow sinner, not just for the other leaders sake, but for his own. He is to weak minded to do it himself, and he believes it would be better to lose his place of power in the church than to "hide his guilty heart." Since he was not revealed, this is exactly what he does, hides his guilty heart.
In view of the fact that there was no external punishment for Arthur, he creates it within himself.
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This self-inflicted punishment affected his physical appearance to such a degree that others would notice it. While waiting in the woods for him, Hester observed Dimmesdale "leaning on a staff which he had cut by the wayside. He looked haggard and feeble". (Hawthorne 197) Pearl also notices the ministers compulsive behaviors caused by his hidden feelings, as revealed when she asked "will he always keep his hand over his heart?" (Hawthorne 223)
Dimmesdale is seen throughout the book holding his hand to his heart. It is the sign through which he could symbolize to world both his sin and suffering. It represents his scarlet letter that he forces himself to wear, whether intentionally or subconscious.
Auther Dimmesdale's own punishment is so oppressive that the chance of leaving with Hester and Pearl makes him the exact opposite of what he has become. He left the woods with twice as much energy as before as he "overcame, in short, all the difficulties of th track, with an unweariably activity that astonished him. He could not but recall how feebly, and with what frequent pauses for breath, he had toiled over the same ground, only two days before." (Hawthorne 227)
On the way to town, he barely stops himself from swearing to a fellow deacon. When an old lady approaches him he cannot remember any scriptures to tell her, and the urge to use his power of persuasion over a young maiden is so strong that he covers his face with his cloak and runs off.
Near the end of the story Dimmesdale finally receives his salvation. After his Election Day speech he ascends the scaffold and bears to the entire town the truth behind his sin. After he achieves this great mental feat he collapses and dies. This is a true irony since his death was both his final salvation, and also served as the last effect of his sin.
Arthur Dimmesdale was a praiseworthy character throughout the book, even though his sin brought so much discomfort to him. The internal punishment he caused himself was his eventual downfall. Dimmesdale had such hardships that few will ever know, and had the most brutal effects of sin bestowed upon him.