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The Scarlet Sin Essay, Research Paper

For thousands of years people have been transgressing their moral and

religious laws to benefit themselves or their beliefs. As recorded

early in the Bible, God’s creation had not even cooled from the proverbial

oven before it started to disobey the rules, “And the Lord God

commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but

from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat’ . .

. when the woman saw the tree was good for food . . . she took from

it’s fruit and ate . . . and she gave also to her husband with her, and he

ate” (Genesis 2-3). More notable sinners of the past include Nero of

Rome, whose interesting behaviors and whims caused many a death, Mao

Tse-tung, who appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for killing 100

million Chinese, and Charles Manson, whose bloody and bizarre killings

instantly grabbed national attention. Misdemeanors, although not as

immense, are the setting of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter; the

theme of which seems to reflect the consequences of these sins.

The obvious result of Hester Prynne’s adulterous relationship with

Arthur Dimmesdale was the child it produced. The Puritan society Hester

lived in dealt harshly with such wanton and immoral actions. Hester was

imprisoned for a short time in the city jail, “With the same harsh

demeanor, she was led back to prison, and vanished from the public gaze

within its iron-clamped portal” (Hawthorne 67). The “beetle-browed and

gloomy [jail]” (Hawthorne 46) was the first sight that greeted the

illegitimate child. Hester was forced to stand on the town scaffold and listen

to Reverend Wilson deliver a blistering sermon on the sin of adultery.

The clergymen also condemned the adulteress to wear a scarlet letter

“A” on her clothing at all times. It was gossiped, “by those who peered

after her, that the scarlet letter threw a lurid gleam along the dark

passageway of the interior” (Hawthorne 67) and was a constant reminder of

misdeeds committed by the wearer.

The consequences of Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth’s sins

were not as apparent to the casual observer. The minister’s guilty

conscience drove him to a manic-depressive state of mind and many rash

incidents, “And thus, while standing on the scaffold Mr. Dimmesdale was

overcome with a great horror of mind . . . Without any effort of his will

or power to restrain himself, he shrieked aloud; an outcry that went

pealing through the night” (Hawthorne 144). Dimmesdale progressively

became worse, for he still had not confessed to being Hester’s accomplice.

Thus by deceiving himself and the townspeople, he was also guilty of the

sin of hypocrisy. Worsening this fact was the near god-like status he

was held to by his congregation so enraptured were they by his moving

sermons and religious fervor. The reverend eventually died, confessing

his sins, in the arms of his beloved and their child. The general

consensus, between Hester and Dimmesdale, was that Chillingworth’s, “revenge

has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the

sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester, never did so!” (Hawthorne

191). For seven long years Chillingworth was Dimmesdale’s leech, exacting

his revenge upon the minister in subtle forms under the pretense of

“physician”. Soon after the demise of the reverend Chillingworth himself,

“positively withered up, shriveled away, and vanished from mortal sight”

(Hawthorne 254). He essentially rotted to death from the hateful

thoughts of revenge that so consumed him.

The greatest sin brought forth in this novel is not committed by any

of the three main characters mentioned. It was committed by the

community of Boston. Hester’s normal, daily activities were closely scrutinized

by the town and her countenance was scorned by the “Christian”

population. Hester was reprimanded for the way she walked, she was shunned by

the people of the town and her visits to church were greeted by harsh

sermons on adultery, ” If she entered a church, trusting to share the

Sabbath smile of the Universal Father, it was often her mishap to find

herself the test of the discourse” (Hawthorne 82). Hester received little

more than beans for the fine quality sewing she did for the governor

and other high class citizens. There was a tremendous difference in the

town?s behavior towards Hester and the way they treated Dimmesdale and

Chillingworth. Dimmesdale was revered and held in awe and Chillingworth

received the utmost respect as a physician while they both were living

the false lives of hypocrites.

The sin of adultery is the set of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and

the theme of the work addresses the consequences of these actions. The

brilliant creation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s mind, Arthur Dimmesdale,

seems to give the advice that, if acted upon, would reveal the true nature

of many, “Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not

your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!”

(Hawthorne 254).


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