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The Theme of Courage in The Scarlet Letter
In the novel The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, new ideas and themes are portrayed, giving a whole new meaning to the story. The trials and tribulations that each character faces, and overcome made the reading more enticing. However, the theme that stood out was one of courage; one must have the courage to be one's self. This theme touched each character in a different way, leaving each with a new perspective of life.
Throughout the novel, different aspects of chivalry were shown. These aspects were displayed through Hester Prynne and Rev. Dimmesdale, one having courage from the beginning to the end, the other only finding courage at the end. The boldness Hester possessed was one that a person only dreams of. It was in her nature to be courageous. ."..with the embroidered letter glimmering..." (141). Hester knew that her action was wrong, yet she felt the need to be herself. She figured that if she was to be punished by a permanent letter it was necessary to make it beautiful (like herself). Hester dealing with guilt and embarrassment had enough and ."..undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet letter..." (185). Knowing that Dimmesdale was going to confess pushed Hester to be herself again. This led her to find her fortitude once again and become herself.
Dimmesdale, however late it occurred, did in fact find courage. Hawthorne kept Dimmesdale "confused." Dimmesdale struggled to find an answer, tossing confession and secrecy back and forth. Dimmesdale ."..longed to speak out..." (132), and confess. Chillingworth knew that Dimmesdale did not have the valor to speak out. Taking this into consideration Dimmesdale pondered the situation and came upon a solution. "And there stood the minister, with his hand over his heart;" (141). This showed true courage, which was not expected of Dimmesdale. Ascending the scaffold and embracing his own punishment, Dimmesdale became himself taking consequences for his actions. Dimmesdale struggled to make peace with Pearl. He knew that all she wanted was attention, which could only be cured by confession. In doing so he took it upon himself to attempt forgiveness. ."..to admit him into the child's kindlier regards-bent forward, and impressed one on her brow.
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Chillingworth did not possess the courage that Dimmesdale and Hester had. Chillingworth understood the situation he was facing and decided to become someone else "Thou wilt not reveal his name? Not the less he is mine" (70). Knowing the trouble he was in, he decided to become a new person, assuming a new identity and occupation. When Dimmesdale mounted the scaffold Chillingworth was dumbfounded and he ."..connected to the drama of guilt and sorrow..." (230). Chillingworth, not having the courage to be himself, knew that the ending was near. Having found revenge he eventually faded away unknown. Chillingworth proved to be a good example of a character that did not fit the theme.
In conclusion, the theme is emphasized throughout the novel, being discovered in different ways. Hawthorne dispersed the meaning one must have the courage to be one's self, intending for Hester to be true to herself, and Dimmesdale to find himself.