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American literature often examines people and motives. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter, and in Arthur Miller’s dramatic classic, The Crucible, people and motives often depict patterns of Puritans struggling for life during a precarious time.
Guilt and shame can tear a person's soul away. The inevitable consequence of sin is the immediate reaction of guilt, shame, and remorse. For example: John Proctor, Elizabeth Proctor, and Reverend Dimmesdale have all committed a sin or sins and are feeling extremely guilty about it. They want to be forgiven, but they have no strength and are cowards. Forgiveness can only be obtained when these characters find the strength within themselves to speak the truth.
The first to commit a sin is John Proctor, the husband of Elizabeth Proctor. John is a good man until Abigail Williams comes into his life. John lives in a house feeling empty and thinking his wife does not love him. Lust is a very powerful feeling, and it tempts John right into bed with Abigail. Unfortunately once he commits adultery, Elizabeth does not forgive him. She finds ways to punish John and make him feel more remorseful. For example, Reverend Hale asks John to recite the commandments, and he forgets one, Elizabeth then says sarcastically, “Adultery, John.” Elizabeth responds in such a manner that John feels overwhelming pain in his heart.
Naturally, Elizabeth feels guilty as well. She tells John, “I have sins of my own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery.” Elizabeth feels as though she is to blame for John committing adultery. She is a mother and, of course, Elizabeth will be consumed with taking care of their children, cooking, cleaning, etc. At first, Elizabeth does not recognize John pulling away from her and turning towards Abigail. Soon after Elizabeth finds out John committed adultery with Abby, she fires her. Later on in the novel Elizabeth is accused of being a witch and John goes to court to prove Abigail is lying.
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But Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale has also felt the burden of knowing the truth and not being unable to speak of it. Arthur Dimmesdale is the minister who commits adultery with Hester in The Scarlet Letter. Though he commits the same sin as Hester, his is the worst for not acknowledging it. This "concealed sin" is the center of his tormented conscience. Instead he speaks to Hester, "..I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow sufferer!”, p.73. It is hypocritical of Dimmesdale to tell Hester to speak out the truth when he knows the truth and he is the father of the child she bore. His silence shows how much of a coward he is and how scared he is of the truth. It is also ironic that Dimmesdale, who is supposed to be absolutely pure and urges his congregation to confess and openly repent their sins, is incapable of acknowledging his own sin and repenting. He knows the hypocrisy of his actions, but cannot bring himself to confess and repent his sins publicly. The guilt consumes him and his heart weakens when he sees Hester suffering alone, knowing he committed the same sin.
The point Hawthorne is making is that every one of our actions inevitably shapes our lives, no matter how insignificant. Symbols like the scarlet letter shape our perceptions and our understanding. They determine the type of individuals we grow to be. Hawthorne describes the purpose of the novel when he says "Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!" The theme is beneficial because it can be put into terms in today's world. The Scarlet Letter is one of the few books that will be timeless, because it deals with alienation, sin, punishment, and guilt, or the emotions that will continue to be felt by every generation hereafter.
In these two writings, the characters all chose to break society’s rules, and eventually paid the greatest price of all. These characters all suffered and pity themselves more or less for being cowards and not revealing the truth at the moment they needed to. Redemption is a necessity for sinners and that is what the characters wanted. These two books state more clearly than any other two books I have ever read, what not to do when it comes to Society. They distinctly state if you choose to break society’s rules, you very often, get the unfavorable end of the spectrum.