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The Power of Sin in The Scarlet Letter
Sin is a part of everyday life. Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter, revolves around the theme of sin and the effects it has on the mind, body, and soul.
A sin was committed by three of the main characters in the novel and throughout the novel Hawthorne tries to point out that sin, no matter how trivial or how substantial, is still sin. There have been debates on exactly who is the biggest sinner, but in Hawthorne's case, I think he believes that the sins were equal and throughout the novel he develops each of them, trying to get the reader to understand is reasoning.
Adultery, which was the sin surrounding two of the main characters, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, was the sin in which the novel was based on. Hester committed adultery with Dimmesdale, a Puritan pastor, and had a child (Pearl) as living proof of her sin. She confessed her sin and was looked down upon by the citizens living in the town. "She would become the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they might vivify and embody their images of woman's frailty and sinful passion." Basically, she was an example of what nobody should become.
The sin of adultery was confessed by one of the two, but Arthur Dimmesdale decided to keep it a secret, which in time tore him apart. Being a pastor, he was afraid of the consequences that would result from his confession, so for seven long years he and Hester kept it a secret, and were never seen together in public.
Roger Chillingworth, Hester's husband, and the other sinner in this novel, sought revenge on whoever the father to Pearl was. He soon suspected Dimmesdale, and would not rest until got revenge on him. Chillingworth pretended to be a physician and was to take care of Dimmesdale, but at the same time he was slowly poisoning him and punishing him physically and mentally. "Calm, gentle, passionless, as he appeared, there was yet, we fear, a quiet depth of malice, hitherto latent, but active now...which led him to imagine a more intimate revenge than any mortal had ever wreaked upon an enemy.
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To go even deeper into the first theme, Hawthorne, throughout the novel, explains how unconfessed sin can eat away at the conscience and destroy the soul. Hester, who had confessed her sin of adultery, wore the scarlet A as a symbol of her faithless sin and through most of the novel lived as a social outcast in the Puritan society. She was looked at as an example of what not to be. Pearl, Hester's lively, uncontrollable daughter is the living result of Hester's sin, and for the most part the two lived together in shame and guilt. Though they face ridicule and disdain throughout the novel, in the end, as a result of Hester's confession, the sin does not destroy her, but instead makes her stronger and braver and she flourishes in spite of the symbol on her chest. "Such helpfulness was found in her- so much power to do and power to sympathize- that many people refused to interpret the scarlet `A' by it's original signification. They said that it meant `Able'; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a women's strength."
Dimmesdale, who committed adultery with Hester, waits until the sin completely destroys him before he confesses. Throughout the story, while Hester was being put through the ignominy of her sin, Dimmesdale hides his sin, failing to name himself the other adulterer or claim Pearl as his daughter. "'What a strange, sad man is he!' said the child, as if speaking partly to herself. 'In the dark night-time he calls us to him, and holds thy hand and mine, as when we stood with him on the scaffold yonder. And in the deep forest, where only the old trees can hear, and the strip of sky see it, he talks with thee, sitting on a heap of moss! And he kisses my forehead, too, so that the little brook would hardly wash it off! But here, in the sunny day, and among all the people, he knows us not; nor must we know him! A strange, sad man is he, with his hand always over his heart!"' The longer he waited to confess, the more punishment and torture he was put through mentally and physically, not only by himself, but by Chillingworth. Several times Dimmesdale hints during his sermons about his sinfulness, but the congregation only honors him even more than before. His relief soon comes in the tragic ending, as Dimmesdale confesses his adultery and stands openly with Hester and Pearl. As he finally admits his sin, his guilty conscience is lifted and he frees himself from Chillingworth's grasp, which allows him to finally die, free of guilt.
Sin was, without a doubt, a major part of these three characters' lives, and Hawthorne does a great job of revealing that to his readers. He points out the immorality in each character, and explained how sin haunted Arthur Dimmesdale until he willingly confessed it. Through his thorough explanation of each of the three characters and their roles in the novel, he definitely proves that sin is equally terrible no matter how inconsequential it may seem.