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Sin in The Scarlet Letter
Since the dawn of time people have read, studied and enjoyed books in
which the hero or heroes fall from grace. No matter who those heroes are-
the human race in The Bible,the demon prince Lestat in Anne Rice's "Vampire
Chronicles"or a certain Thane of Cawdor in "Macbeth"- sin plays a greatpart
in all of their downfalls and subsequent ressurections.And the three main
characters in Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter"-Dimmesdale, Chillingsworth,
and Hester Prynne- are no different.
All three characters are flung from the normal rolesthat society has
laid upon them- minister, housewife, doctor-into new roles- sinner, whore,
and vengance crazed sadist.These new roles are not necessarily apparent to
all in town.However, even though the townspeople do not know of thesinners,
God does. And in God's eyes, whose sin was greater?That, I cannot answer.
But in this mere mortal's opinion, the sin of Chillingsworth far outdid the
sin of Dimmesdale or Hester Prynne, for Chillingsworth's sin was one of
revengeand one of secrecy. He was not driven by an anger at his ownsin, but
by the sin of others. He used deception andmanipulation to make the life of
another miserable. He wasnot flung from society's view as if he were a
dirty secretlike Hester was; he was embraced by it. However, his sin
didtake it's toll. He was disfigured horribly and became atwisted man,
scarred by sin. He also was robbed of thepleasure of destroying Dimmesdale
which was his reason forliving. He died shortly after Dimmesdale.
Hester Prynne, however, was the complete opposite of Chillingworth in
that her sin gave her life, not destroyed it. She took her punishment and
embraced it, using it to rebuild herself not as a pathetic sinner, but as a
pseudo-saint. At first, the town shunned her as a sinner. However,after
they saw that she was good, and her sin was of love,the same town embraced
and loved her. Her sin drew her moredeeply into the society of Boston than
she ever was before.And when her time to die came, she did so with honor.
HesterPrynne - sinner and saint. However, Hester's sin was shared.
Whereas she was asinner on the outside and a saint on the inside,
ArthurDimmesdale is the reverse, both literally and figuratively.
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outside, a town minister, inside an adulterer. Of allthe characters,
Dimmesdale is the most pitiful. A man sopenitent that he whips himself, but
so afraid that he cannotconfess his sin; a sin which takes a great toll on
him. Hiscountenance is disfigured in the shape of what we assume tobe an A
on his chest (that or a cow shaped birthmark) and hissoul is eaten by his
guilt. Arthur does later confess, and aweight is lifted from his being. And
with that weight gone hefinally dies in peace.
Sin has always been and will always be a part of human life and
literature. And as long as there is sin, people willreact to it in
different ways; some will hide it, some willembrace it, some will rot from
it. But no matter how the sin is handled or dealt with, it will always
leave it's mark. Forme, the mark of sin will always be symbolized as a
scarlet A on a black background.