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Nathaniel Hawthorn and Charles Dickens in their novels The Scarlet Letter and A
Tale of Two Cities, respectively, both use punishment for deception as a
recurring theme. Although they do so to different degrees and in dissimilar
manners, both authors agree that deception is a sin that requires punishment.
In The Scarlet Letter, the heroine, Hester Prynne conceived a child out
of wedlock. Despite the pleas and demands of the clerical community, she did
not reveal the identity of the father. The Puritanical community in which she
lived in demanded her to give up her conspirator or bear the consequences of the
deed alone. Due to her doggedness, the townsmen sentenced her to wear a scarlet
letter *A* embroidered on her chest. The A served as a symbol of her crime, was
a punishment of humiliation, gave her constant shame, and reminded her of her
sin. Hester*s penalization was a prime example where deception led to negative
consequences in that she would have been spared the entire encumbrance of the
crime if she did not deceive the townspeople. Although seemingly, her paramour
did not escape punishment.
In fact, the father of her bastard child took a more severe sentence.
Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale seemed to be an upstanding, young priest. The whole
town liked him and respected him as a holy man. Thus, his deception was much
more direct and extreme when he did not confess that he impregnated Hester
Prynne. Unlike Hester, he was not publicly punished. So although Hester
overcame her ordeal and went on with her life, Dimmesdale exacted a constant,
physical and mental reprobation on himself. This inner pain was so intense that
his physical health began to reflect his inner sufferings. In the end, he
redeemed himself by his confession in front of the whole town, but his long
endurance of the secret took its toll and he died. Roger Chillingworth had a
Like Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, Hester*s husband, keeps his relation to
her a secret. Chillingworth*s deception allows him to become consumed with
hatred and the desire to inflict his revenge on the one who stole his wife*s
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heart. Because he had secretly lived his life in hate, he too began to show his
rotten inner self on the outside. Never having revealed his true identity to
everyone, he died without solace and alone.
Although Charles Dickens is not so severe in the castigation of his
characters, he too makes the crime of deception punishable even by death. In A
Tale of Two Cities, Charles Darnay is an example of one who escapes punishment
for his offense.
Charles Darnay was his first line of deception. Darnay used this
pseudonym in order to hide his roots in the French aristocracy. He was truly an
Evr*monde. This fact continuously haunted him later when he met and fell in
love with Lucy Manette. This was due to her roots which lied in her father, Dr.
Manette. Dr. Manette was imprisoned unjustly by an Evr*monde and saw their
abuses of the peasant class. He thusly accused all Evr*mondes of being monsters.
Later, he suspected that Charles was an Evr*monde, but did not tell anyone
because of his daughter*s relationship with Charles. This became a problem
later when Charles needed to go to France after the start of the Revolution.
Because he had always been careful to hide his identity, he assumed no one knew
his true identity so he left for France despite the danger the Revolution was
for him. When he arrived, he was immediately imprisoned and sentenced to death.
Only through the sacrifice of another man, he escaped his sentence. Every
character was not as lucky as him, however.
Another character who despised the Evr*mondes was Madame Defarge. She
was not spared an unnatural death. Like Dr. Manette she hid the fact that an
Evr*monde wronged her in the past. In her case, it was an Evr*monde who
impregnated her sister and killed her brother. She secretly abhorred the family
of Evr*mondes and nurtured hopes for someday exacting a revenge upon them.
Unlike Dr. Manette, she could not separate Darnay from his infamous family and
tried to have him killed during the Revolution. Because of her secret, she
tried to confront Charles alone. This led to her confrontation with Ms. Pross
when looking for the Evr*mondes. In her struggle with Ms. Pross, she draws a
gun, only to be accidentally shot with it by Ms. Pross, ending her life.
Dr. Manette had a secret hate for the Evr*mondes too, but his ability
to see past Charles* name saved him from a fatal end. As a victim of the
Evr*mondes, it was necessary for him to risk his life when he wanted to save
Darnay from death. A letter, he wrote years ago before he knew Charles, that
deemed all Evr*mondes as monsters made this impossible. Because of this he
almost caused his only love in life*s, his daughter, the pain of losing her
husband. The sacrifice of man named Sydney Carton saved him from going through
his daughter*s grief and allowed his son in-law to live.
The sacrifice of Sydney Carton was his punishment for secrecy. He was
in every outward aspect, Charles Darnay. This included the fact that he was in
love with Lucy Manette. Unfortunately, his mirror image and Lucy were already
in love and he knew that he could not win her heart. Thus, he was consigned to
love Lucy clandestinely and hated himself for the years of life he wasted making
nothing of himself. He was jealous of Charles, who was just like him, but had
made something of himself, and thus, won Lucy*s heart. When Charles was in
prison and was waiting to be executed, these inner feelings of Carton came into
play as he made Darnay switch clothing with him so that he would go to the
guillotine and Darnay would go free. Charles* life was his gift to Lucy and his
revenge upon Darnay who, now, owed his life to Carton. He was one who faced the
punishment of death.
The death of a character is the ultimate penalty in both The Scarlet
Letter and A Tale of Two Cities. Both Dickens and Hawthorn use this to
compensate for a character*s falsification and the wrongdoings due to the
secrets that each hide. They both, however, also allow death to be an end with
grace, as it was for Reverend Dimmesdale, in A Scarlet Letter, and Sydney Carton,
in A Tale of Two Cities. Both characters were allowed to die in peace because
of the penitence each went through.
Although there were some similarities in the penalties, there were more
differences. Even in the death penalty, the two authors inflicted them upon
their characters in different manners. Dimmesdale and Chillingworth, in
Hawthorn*s novel, died by a physical reaction to the inner deterioration of each
man. In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens had his characters go through violent and
unnatural demises. Another difference was the fate of the others. Hawthorn let
Hester Prynne live, but she lived alone and without comfort for her past. On
the other hand, Charles Darnay and Dr. Manette both escaped the consequences of
their dupery and went on to live with happiness.
Whether by death, humiliation, or difficult trials, Nathaniel Hawthorn
and Charles Dickens imprint upon the readers mind, that deception is an offense
and must be punished.
Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. London: Orion Publishing Group, 1994.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter: Ed. Ross C. Murfin. New York, New York: Bedford Books of St. Martins P., 1991.
Lucas, John. The Melancholy Man: A Study of Dickens' Novels. London: N.P., N.D.