Essay, Research Paper: Scarlet Letter Nature

Literature: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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People live with lies every day. Everyone from the President of the United
States to the poorest beggar in New York City has told a lie. White lies, gray
lies, and plain old dirty fat lies are strewn forth every day like water from a
fountain. The only true difference between them is the amount of guilt they
place on the liar. If they feel guilt, then they suffer greatly throughout their
lives, from lots of small indiscretions or just once large one. The majority of
the people in this world have the ability to alleviate their guilt through some
kind of penance, but for some that is not enough. Anything they do can not
repeal the feeling of guilt and the knowledge they did something wrong. People
like this make themselves sick with worry and regret, and they often die of
their disease: depression. Those people who do manage to drop their guilt become
productive members of society again because they have reconnected with the rest
of the human race. They don’t deny their guilt or their crimes, they just
acknowledge there are some things they cannot change, they can just try to make
up for them. In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne the decision of the
characters to either admit or hide the truth determines the quality of their
lives. While Hester Pryne admits her sins and resolves them over time through
her charity work, Arthur Dimmsdale bottles up his sins and, even though he
physically tortures himself, cannot resolve his great misdeeds.. The first
character to choose a path is Hester Pryne. While she did have a child when she
hadn’t seen her husband in over a year, (a dead giveaway) she could have
easily fled the colony before the birth. She instead stayed and faced her peers,
and in that way she admitted her sin. To flee would have led her along a
completely different path, one of denial. Hester didn’t quite buy into all the
Puritan ideals, but she knew adultery was a sin against God, it said so in the
bible. Only the tremendous courage she had, and the large sense of righteousness
in her blood kept her from fleeing. And she obviously believed that her form of
penance, would be enough to gain her sanctity in the eyes of God, even though
the Puritans held opposing beliefs: “The Scarlet Letter explicitly declares
the impossibility of redemption for the sinner.” (pg#) If you don’t let the
world share in your guilt, it will all be upon you, and only you. With the
crushing weight of guilt she would have had she would not lived longer than
those seven years. Even the Puritan people who openly despised her at the time
she exposed her sin, eventually were won over by her vast charity work. They
begin to associate the letter A with able, and not adultery. And all she
accomplished was because she spoke the truth, and the truth wasn’t really as
bad as it looked. Her husband was an old misshapen man who she had no love for.
He had been gone for a long period of time, and maybe she believed that he was
even dead. Her sin was remote and not completely justified in the morals of
these modern times, and she grasped that even then. The author Nathaniel
Hawthorne wrote it best: “Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world,
if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred.” (242) If
all the people know your worst, only then can they begin to work through that
and begin to see your best. If all they see is the good side of you, then you
are holding back from them, lying to them. Only when you show both sides do you
begin to gain penance, and that is exactly what Hester Pryne did. While Hester
Pryne gained freedom from her guilt, Dimmsdale’s failure to admit his crime
slowly destroyed his life. Dimmsdale never confessed his sin, even though he was
given numerous opportunities. And, like Chillingsworth said at the end of the
book, a confession would have ended Chillingsworth’s evil prematurely:
“There was no place where thou couldst have escaped me!” (236) In an obvious
parallel to Hester’s stout and quick admittance, Dimmsdale is the
contradiction: he suffers great agony and fails to admit his sin until minutes
before his death (a cowardly way out). His great Puritanical beliefs left him no
recourse really: one of the main faults of Puritanism (and most Protestantism)
is the lack of a way to cleanse yourself of sins: there is no described way to
lay down your guilt. While Hester suffered those seven years with the
townspeople united against her, Dimmsdale gained prestige and fame due to his
great preaching. He led wondrously moving sermons on honesty and the fate of
those who did not come clean with God. The horribly ironic thing is that this
would have gained him penance in our time: many former drug addicts make their
living giving motivational lectures to groups pleading with them not to make the
same mistakes. The only difference is the same one at the roots of all
Dimmsdale’s problems: these drug users were all admitted junkies. Dimmsdale
wasn’t, and that just made him a gigantic hypocrite. Instead Dimmsdale spent
seven long years with a horrible secret burning in his heart, and later his
chest. He used a bloody scourge to inflict a hideous wound upon himself in a
misguided attempt to gain penance: “Some affirmed that the Reverend Mr.
Dimmsdale had begun a course of penance: which he afterwards, in so many futile
methods, followed out- by inflicting a hideous torture on himself.” (240) The
key word in that quote is “futile”; the theme of his denial cannot be
emphasized enough. All of his hidden sin also allowed one Mr. Chillingsworth to
take advantage of him. Why the effect of the medicines that Chillingsworth gave
to Mr. Dimmsdale are never mentioned in the book (and highly debated even now) I
firmly believe that they are what kept him alive those seven years. The only
thing worse than horrible suffering leading to an early death is long, drawn out
horrible suffering leading to death. And Hawthorne pulled no punches in
describing the quality of life that Dimmsdale enjoyed: “Hawthorne’s portrait
of the twistings and windings of a guilty conscience is finely observed and
vividly rendered.” (pg#) Truly Hawthorne must have had some horrible insight
into a guilty conscience sometime during his life, or he just really disagreed
with every single principle of Puritanism (maybe both). Truly, (no pun intended)
Dimmdale’s failure to live honestly witch ravaged the quality of his life.
Hester Pryne’s life of charity and honesty, blurred only with her great sin,
ended with the love of her daughter and her ultimate forgivance. Dimmsdale’s
life of dishonesty and hypocrisy led him down a winding spiral of despair and
depression with only a meager attempt at forgiveness near the end of his life.
The decision of the characters in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne to
either admit or hide the absolute truths in their lives determined the quality
of their lives. The guilty in this world will always have a choice, no matter
how difficult it is. They can take Hester’s route: admit their sins and strive
the rest of their lives to gain forgiveness. Or they can take Dimmsdale’s
route: Repress their sins and forever live with that awful feeling at the bottom
of your stomach that the guilty have.
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