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The Scarlet Letter: Sin and Guilt

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The Scarlet Letter: Sin and Guilt The novel "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne has been a classic for many years. It is important to examine the theme Hawthorne develops and how he exhibits it through the lives of his characters. Hawthorne carries the theme of sin and guilt throughout his novel. This theme is noticeable in the plot line and is illustrated through the main characters of Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth. Hester is a married woman who arrives from England prior to her husband, Roger Chillingworth. Hester commits the sin of adultery and having a daughter out of wedlock. She refuses to name the father of her child and is forced to live with guilt by wearing a scarlet "A" on her gown. She is also guilty of hiding the fact the Chillingworth is her husband, and upon telling Dimmesdale the truth, begs "Let God punish! ...read more.


As a man who had once sinned, but who kept his conscience all alive and painfully sensitive by the fretting of an unhealed wound, he might have been supposed safer within the line of virtue, than if he had never sinned at all (Hawthorne, 244)." Hawthorne illustrates the guilt and its consequences by writing "the breach which guilt once made into the human soul is never, in the mortal state, repaired (Hawthorne, 245)." Dimmesdale's "selfhood is so fractured that he has to appeal to someone else to make known who he is. He exhorts Hester to name her fellow sinner, aware that the guilty party is himself (Gilmore, 2001)." Chillingworth is a physician and the husband of Hester, and is seen as an evil force. He is guilty of the pretense of treating Dimmesdale while actually extracting vengeance on him after finding out that he was the one Hester had the affair with. This vengeance further affects Dimmesdale's health, and will eventually lead to his death. ...read more.


Chillingworth, having no one to harass and punish any longer, dies within a year of Dimmesdale. Although, he has been pure evil throughout the book, he does exhibit one act of kindness. He leaves Pearl money and land, perhaps from the guilt of what he has put her parents through. The theme of guilt and sin would not have continued had Hester and Dimmesdale escaped to Europe. Dimmesdale would never have felt compelled to admit his guilt, and would have lived out his life with everyone thinking he was above sinning. The reader would have been left feeling Dimmesdale had gotten away with his sin, while Hester had shouldered the burden by herself. Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel "The Scarlet Letter" intertwined the lives, sins and guilt of its three main characters: Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth. He was able to maintain this theme throughout the novel, and in the end showed that the characters were never able to escape from their burdens. ...read more.

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