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The Poser of Guilt in The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a book that goes far into the lives of the main characters. After establishing the main characters--Hester, Pearl, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth--he shows how each decision they made affects all the others. Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth all felt guilty at one point in the novel.
Hester had "dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and deep black eyes" (50). Hester, here described as a beautiful woman, had committed adultery. Because of her sin, her punishment was shame by the branding of the scarlet `A'. She simply accepted the punishment. The scarlet letter makes people look at Hester differently, but she doesn't seem to care. Hester created the `A' to be very elaborate to make people notice it. Having the sin out in the open let her relieve any guilt.
The `A' was meant to punish Hester for eternity. She was to wear it till she died, and then it was going to be engraved on her tombstone. While in the forest, Hester made clothes for people in town. Because she had sinned, she was not allowed to make "the white veil which was to cover the pure blushes of a bride" (76). After a few years, Hester had changed the meaning of her scarlet letter, "they said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength" (141). Her "punishment" had become an honor. Although Hester tore off the letter and went to England with Pearl, she returned to Boston and put the scarlet letter back on.
Hester was certainly not the only person affected in all of this. Roger Chillingworth had a "slight deformity of the figure" which later reflected the transformation his soul would make (56). In the first meeting of Hester and Chillingworth, Hester asks, "Hast thou enticed me into a bond that will prove the ruin of my soul?" and Chillingworth replies, "Not thy soul. No, not thine!" (70).
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The target of Chillingworth's revenge carried the most guilt. Arthur Dimmesdale, the minister and Pearl's father, had no way to relieve his guilt. Being the minister, he was forced to hide everything and pretend he had nothing to do with it. At one point, his own scarlet `A' appeared on his chest, it is not explained how this came to be. Dimmesdale could not show any emotion towards Hester or Pearl while in town, but in the forest, he was very passionate and openly accepted Pearl as his daughter. It is not till the end of the novel that Dimmesdale confesses his sins. On the way to the scaffold, Dimmesdale says "Thy power is not what it was! With God's help, I shall escape thee now!" to Chillingworth as he dies on the scaffold (230). In the end, Dimmesdale is free from the torment and Roger Chillingworth lives in agony.
Hester and Dimmesdale's adultery caused much grief and torment to both them and Hester's husband, Chillingworth. From beginning to end, guilt transformed these characters. Nathaniel Hawthorne thoroughly developed the main characters.