Essay, Research Paper: Scarlet Letter Story

Literature: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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"No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and
another to the multitude without finally becoming bewildered as to which may be
true. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, this quote applies to the two
main characters of the novel. It applies to Arthur Dimmesdale in a literal way;
he clearly is not the man that he appears to be, and the guilt that goes along
with such deception consumes him and, in the end, is the cause for his demise.
The quote also applies to Hester Prynne, but in quite a different way. It was
not her choice to wear the face that she was forced to wear, but the scarlet
letter on her bosom determined how people saw her and, in turn, how she was
expected to feel about herself. At first, however, Hester did not consider the
sin which she committed as blasphemous and horrible as the people of Boston did,
but she was forced to wear the face of an evil doer. For both Hester and Arthur,
it was true that they could not live their lives concealing their true emotions.
Arthur literally could not live with it, while Hester changed the way she felt
on the inside to correspond to her guilty image. At the court house, when Arthur
Dimmesdale was pleading for Hester to reveal the name of the man with whom she
had an affair, it was clear that a part of him actually wanted everyone to know
that it was he who was the guilty one. "Be not silent from any mistaken
pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step
down from a high place...better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through
life,"(47). When this plea is made, it at first glance appears to be quite
ironic. The actual man who committed the crime is trying to convince his
accomplice to do him in. However, this statement shows that Arthur was not
simply a confused man; it was much more extreme that that. He was
"bewildered to the point where a part of him really wanted Hester to let
the whole town know that it was he who was the guilty one. Whether he meant to
or not, Arthur did sound extremely convincing in his speech, which makes the
reader understand that he was being pulled in two completely opposite
directions. A part of him wanted more than anything to have the weight of this
secret sin lifted from his conscience; another part of him, arguably the
practical part, knew that he could never let the people know the truth. His
facade and image were much too important not only to him, but to the entire
community. If he had admitted to everyone what he had done, then he would have
been seen, not only as a hypocrite, but a betrayer of everyone's trust. Some
people inthe community might have even started doubting the religion because, if
this man who they considered holy and righteous, could not live a sin free life,
then how could they? Clearly, Arthur was asking these questions as well, and the
world in which he had lived in a had served so faithfully in was beginning to
close in on him. It was because of this that his health began to fail and his
body could, at the end, no longer handle the weight and sadness of his soul. His
spirit had been lost long before his body gave out. Both Hester and Arthur
struggled with the question of whether or not what they had done was a true sin
and whether or not there was utter truth in the words and ideologies of the
towns people. The two of them did not simply sleep together out of lust and
recklessness; they were truly in love and, at the time, they both believed that
what they did "had a consecration of its own"(134). This meant that
there was an aspect of holiness in what they did; it was something pure and even
sacred to them at the time. Whether they were truly in love, or whether it was
passion, or a combination of the two, both Arthur and Hester were faced with the
question of whether what they did was truly a sin. They had to ask themselves an
extremely difficult question and what the people of Boston thought was
irrelevant to the question, because they were dealing with the way that God felt
and looked upon their supposed "consecration" and, perhaps even more
importantly, how they felt about what they had done. Both Arthur and Hester
decided that they had committed a true sin and that it was, as all sins are,
wrong. Arthur was so miserable and felt so torn and guilty that there was no way
for him to believe that what they had done had any elements of purity and
goodness. He felt "nothing but despair"(131), he was "most
miserable"(131), and he knew that they would receive their punishments on
judgement day by the only one true judge: God. Arthur was torn because he could
not live with the weight of the secret sin, but he could not imagine making it
public. It was because of this, that his health began to deteriorate and his
spirit was losing all of its strength and character. "His form grew
emaciated; his voice...had a certain melancholy prophecy of decay in
it,"(82) which meant that it became clear that he was not on his way to
recovery but, vice versa, on his way to death and "decay". Hester lost
her spirit as well, but she dealt with the in a completely different way.
Instead of completely giving up all hope, Hester decided that the people of
Boston were right in labelling her and placing the "A" on her. She did
not, at first, think that what her and Arthur did was evil. In fact, she labels
their act as having been holy and completely unprofane. However, at some point
in her life, she decided that what they did in fact was a sin. She did not start
seeing herself as a bad person, and neither did the townspeople because they
eventually took the "A" on her chest to stand for "Able".
What she did do was give up her dreams and goals of leading a revolution to make
people see women and the world in a new way. When she internalized what the
"A" had stood for throughout all of those years, and what the
townspeople truly thought of her and especially of what she had done, she
abandoned her hopes for influencing the way others thought and realized the
"impossibility that any mission of divine and mysterious truth should be
confided to a woman stained with sin, [or] bowed down with shame,"(180).
Hester admitted to having committed a true sin and, therefore, being filled with
shame and remorse for what she and Arthur and done. For both Arthur and Hester,
there is a struggle with their identities. Arthur was not able to handle the
guilt and shame that went along with his secret. He became so torn and
bewildered, that his health began to deteriorate and he, eventually died because
he could not bare the sadness of his life. Hester dealt with the sin in a
completely different way not only because she was a different person, but
because there was no additional weight of a secret that went along with the sin.
Instead of trying to figure out her identity, the way Arthur had, and clinging
onto the belief that what she had done was not a sin, she allowed herself to
surrender and believe what the rest of society believed at that time. The people
of Boston saw adultery as a sin, and there was no way that any good or love
could come out of it. When Arthur's character is tested, he struggles to find
the answer but is unable to, and literally dies trying. Hester, on the other
hand, does not give such a noble attempt, but rather choses, whether consciously
or not, to go along with the mainstream views of adultery.
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