Deception and Punishment in The Scarlet Letter and A Tale of Two Cities

Deception and Punishment in The Scarlet Letter and A Tale of Two Cities

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Deception and Punishment in The Scarlet Letter and A Tale of Two Cities

   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

similar fate.


      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.


Works Cited


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.

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