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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

comparing sin with hester and dimmesdale in the scarlet letter

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In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is punished by the Puritan society in the form of wearing the scarlet letter A for the sin of adultery. Hawthorne frequently touches upon the topic through many of the characters, and in doing this he criticizes the Puritan views on the punishment of sin. Hawthorne touches on sin through Hester and Dimmesdale, where Hester is punished publicly and forced to wear the scarlet letter, and Dimmesdale punishes himself privately both physically and psychologically. In the Puritan society sin was unaccepted, and ultimately the society decided sinners should be punished publicly. Hester and Dimmesdale, however, do not become victims of their sin, and in their experiences they show a sense of understanding of others and personal growth.


Upon coming to America, Hester Prynne involves herself in an affair with the Puritan minister, Dimmesdale, in which she later gives birth to Pearl. For her sin of adultery she is punished publicly so she could feel shame. From her punishment, Hester permanently must wear the scarlet letter A, symbolizing her sin, in accompaniment with standing on the scaffold before the public for a few hours. Although Hester is presented with the opportunity to leave and start a new life elsewhere she chooses to remain in the location where her sin was committed and serve her punishment on the outskirts of Boston. As she alienates herself, Hester is an outcast; however, she manages to stay a part of the community by offering her talents in embroidery. She also tries to connect herself to the community through service but the people she tries to help frequently insult her.


After seven years Hester finally is showing increasingly more activity in the community. As she helps the poor, she is insulted much less, and she is gradually becoming accepted by society. With this acceptance Hester has lost her passionate side and she has covered up her beauty in her shame. She also often thinks about the consequences of keeping Chillingworth’s identity secret. As she is slowly being accepted into society, Hester learns that she is given the opportunity to stop wearing the scarlet letter as a sign she has become accepted. However, Hester shows her understanding of the letter and says, “It lies not in the pleasure of the magistrates to take off this badge.” (176)


For seven years Hester has been punished through the scarlet letter acting as a constant reminder of her sin. Her shame has driven her to live on the outskirts of the community, yet she still managed to become accepted into the society. As Hester has become accepted through her service the townspeople believe that the Puritan system of punishment has been successful. They believe that the use of the scarlet letter has led her to think about the wrongs of her sin, but this is not true. Hesters thinking has helped her to realize that she does not need to accept the towns opinions of her at all. When she first was released from the prison she refused to flee from Boston because at the time she did not believe that the society should have the power to judge her. Now, the opportunity is being presented that she may be able to remove the scarlet letter, but as she sees things, it is not in the hands of the town fathers. Rather it is in God’s will that will make the scarlet letter fall from her chest. Her identity and her souls salvation, as she believes, are matters that are between her and God.


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Since the day Hester was punished for her sin of adultery she swore that she would never reveal the name of her fellow sinner, Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale is a Puritan minister and when Hester came to Boston they engaged in an affair and became lovers. Opposed to Hester who faces her sin through public punishment through wearing the scarlet letter, Dimmesdale deals with his guilt privately by punishing himself both physically and psychologically. Unfortunately as a result to his self-torments he develops a heart condition, which causes him to become sickly. Another result to his self-torments is his remarkable sermons where his mental anguish and physical weakness allow himself to open up his mind and be very persuasive to the congregation. These sermons help to show his leadership in the community as a powerful speaker, thus the congregation receives much spiritual guidance. However, his very sermons to the public are often times in conflict with his own feelings of his sins.


From the very day Hester was placed on the scaffold Dimmesdale has shown his persuasiveness as well as his conscience. When the public demanded she tell the name of her fellow sinner, Dimmesdale convinced the public that it was not right to force her to reveal her secrets before such a crowd in broad daylight. Again when Pearl was three years old and the community had doubts of whether Hester should be allowed to raise her child, Dimmesdale persuaded the town fathers in favor of Hester that she keep the child because Pearl was sent by God to be both a blessing and a curse.


As was becoming more and more normal, Dimmesdale started to clutch his hand over his heart as if he had heart pains. Dimmesdale appears to be wasting away, suffering from sever health problems, so Chillingworth decides to live with him in order to figure out the problem of his illness. Chillingworth devotes all of his time to Dimmesdale in finding the root of the problem as he tries to learn about his life as well as make new medicines, but Dimmesdale chooses not to say anything. One day as Chillingworth chooses to see if his suspicions are true he looks under Dimmesdale’s shirt while he is asleep and discovers the root of his guilt. The reason that Dimmesdale cannot be cured by any of Chillingworth’s vices is because of Dimmesdale’s inability to confess his adultery with Hester. Dimmesdale even believes that his private suffering is much more severe than that of the shame that Hester feels by the public showing of the scarlet letter. In this belief Dimmesdale says, “But still, methinks, it must needs be better for the sufferer to be free to show his pain, as this poor woman Hester is, than to cover it all up in his heart.” (1-140) Here, Dimmesdale is sure that the silence he has proclaimed is much more tormenting than that of the public shame which Hester undergoes.


Dimmesdale, however, does still manage to continuously give magnificent sermons, which provide much spiritual guidance to the congregation. After the night where Dimmesdale joins hands with Pearl and Hester atop the scaffold � which is also the night of the strange shape of a letter A illuminated in the sky from the passing meteor � the next morning, Dimmesdale delivers his best sermon yet. Dimmesdale’s mental anguish and physical weakness from his self-torments allow himself to have an open mind and be very persuasive when speaking to the congregation.


Nathaniel Hawthorne, in The Scarlet Letter, touches upon the topic of sin through the characters of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, and in doing this he criticizes the Puritan views on the punishment of sin. Hawthorne touches on sin through Hester and Dimmesdale, where Hester is punished publicly in the form of wearing the scarlet letter, and Dimmesdale punishes himself privately both physically and psychologically. In the Puritan society sin was unaccepted, and ultimately punished publicly. Hester and Dimmesdale, however, do not become victims of their sin, and in their experiences they show a sense of understanding of others and personal growth. The reason the Puritans assign the scarlet letter to Hester is so she can contemplate her sins; however, Hester does not do this. In fact, she believes her identity and her soul are in God’s hands, rather than that of the town fathers. Dimmesdale on the other hand hides his guilt from the society and inflicts punishment on himself; however he does not let his health problems get in his way of becoming a better person. With each day the pain from his self-torments help him to come up with stronger and more emotional sermons each week. Thus from each of their experiences they show a sense of understanding of others and personal growth.





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