The word sin is used mostly in the religious context to refer to an action that goes against the moral rule or the mere state of being in a position to commit such kind of violation. This moral code of conduct is commonly decreed by some divine entity which is the divine law. Sin is therefore used to refer to an action that is considered morally wrong or is prohibited. In some religions like the Christianity sects, sin does not only refer to physical actions that are taken but also refers to thoughts, feelings and internalized motivations. Colloquially, any words, acts or thoughts considered, harmful, immoral, alienating or shameful could be termed as sinful (Hawthorne 1852).
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The scarlet letter is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel that is considered most famous and was published in 1850. It is also American’s first quintessentially novel in style, language and theme. The story line is centered a round Hester Prynne travails who engages in an adulterous affair and gives birth to a daughter Pearl. According to Kopley (2003), this novel is not concerned a bout the affair itself but rather the effects of the affair. He uses Hester’s public shaming to demonstrate the enduring taboos of Puritan New England in modern-day society.
Since the beginning of time, people have studied read and enjoyed books that demonstrate the heroes or hero fall from grace. Regardless of what those heroes are; the demon prince Lestat in Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, the human race in the bible, or the Thae of Cawdor in the Macbeth, it is important to note that sin plays a major role in their downfall and resurrections. In the same breath, the three main characters in the scarlet Letter by Hawthorne, Dimmesdale, Hester Prynne and Chillingworth are no different. All of these three characters are tossed from the normal society roles that the society lays upon them. They include housewife, minister, and doctor into the new roles whore, sinner and sadist who is crazed with vengeance. These new roles are not essentially evident to others in town. Even though the people of the town do not know about the sinners, it’s apparent that God knows (Peters 1994).
It is however not possible to state whose was greater in God’s eyes but in the sheer mortal’s opinion Chillingsworth’s sins were much greater than the sins of Hester Prynne or Dimmesdale because Chillingsworth sins were of secrecy and revenge. He was drive by the sins others and not his own sins. According to Hawthorne (1999), he made the lifes of others difficult and miserable by use of manipulation and deception. Unlike Hester, he was not thrown from the views of the society as if he was a dirty secret; instead he was loved by it. His sin however came to take a toll on him after some time. He became horribly disfigured and became a twisted man who was scared by sin. In addition he was also taken off the pleasure of destroying Dimmesdale and yet this was the main reason by which he lived. I the end he died shortly after Dimmesdale.
Hester Prynne was however the complete opposite of Chillingworth in the sense that her sin did not destroy her but instead gave her life. She accepted her punishments and used it to rebuild her life as a pseudo saint but no as a pathetic sinner. In the first place the society had shunned her as a pathetic sinner but after they saw how good she was since her sin was of love and later loved her. According to Hawthorne (1852), she was drawn more deeply into the society of Boston because of her sin more than ever before. When her dieing time came, she did so very honorably. She was therefore both a sinner and a saint.
Even though Pear is represented to be a complex character in the novel, her main function is as a symbol. She embodies the scarlet letter herself. She is then rightly clothed by Hester in address so beautiful and embodied with threads of gold. According to Kopley (2003), this is just the same representation as the scarlet letter in Hester’s bosom.
Arthur Dimmesdale was the reverse of Hester, both figuratively and literally. On the inside, he was an adulterer while on the outside he was a town minister. He was the most pitiful of all characters. He was a very patient man that he whips himself but he could not confess his sins because he was so afraid. This sin took a great toll on him. According to Kopley (2003), guilt eats his soul and his countenance is flawed in the shape of something we assume to be an A on the chest. He does not confess and his being is lightened by removing a weight and when this weight is removed he dies in peace. From the hint given in the novel, it is right to guess that Dimmesdale was guilty of adultery but he did not open up his sin until there was no more time. He continued to minister in church as a hypocrite hiding his sins. His conscience never the less drove his mind to depression and this made him very sick.
Dimmesdale and Hester’s experience brings back Adam and Eve’s story because in both cases it is the sin that leads to their suffering and expulsion. It also results to knowledge of its meaning to human life. According to Kopley (2003), the scarlet paper factions as a passport to areas where other women could not have reached and this leads her to speculate about the society in which she lives and herself in a broader way than anyone else in the New England. For Dimmesdale, his sins of the cheating minister gives him intimate sympathies with the mankind brotherhood that is so sinful. His chests vibrates in the same pace as others. The story shows how he began in purity and falls in corruption there after.
Boston was not a place we expect to find freedom of expression, feminism or gender equality in the mid seventeenth century but Hawthorne’s Scarlet letter shows sympathy to the females. He has identified the inequality witnessed between the two races such as moral differences, oppression from expression and the use of excellence. According to Kopley (2003), a man could never be punished unless he was caught in the actual act of adultery and his actions reported to the authorities. The women on the other hand were scorned every time they were suspected to have done any thing wrong. The author in chapter seventeen page 188 describes the scarlet letter of Hester as “her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Solute, Despair! These had her teachersâ€¦. And they had made her strong.” He writes that even though Hester may be ostracized, she grew wiser and stronger. This is however ironic because the spirit of Dimmesdale wanes when Hester grows stronger. Despite this she is revered by people to be holy and her evil (Hawthorne 1999).
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It is believed by the Puritan society that any sin will restrict someone from reaching heaven and therefore the above mentioned person will negatively affect their community and therefore should be removed from the society. This religion therefore oppresses opulence on earth so that when they reach heaven they will not be offended. This plays a major role in beauty and feministic expression. This oppression is identified by Hawthorne by describing the new found beauty of Hester after she decided to flee out of Boson together with Dimmesdale. ” She took off her formal cap that confined her hair, and down it fell upon her shoulders, dark and richâ€¦and a light in its abundanceâ€¦.A crimson flush was glowing on her cheekâ€¦Her sex, her youth and the whole richness of her beauty, came back.” (Ch XVII, Pg 191). After the society had suppressed her beauty she cast off the inhibition and regained the natural beauty she always has been with (Peters 1994).
Nature is seen to have shunned Hester with the rest of the society when she inveterate to human law. When she later accepted her heart and the true love, her body was illuminated by nature. This is illustrated in the chapter seventeen on page 191 when the author says “All at once, as with a sudden smile of heaven, forth burst the sunshine, pouring a very flood into the obscure forest.” This statement makes it apparent that Hester might not be equal to men in the eyes of the society but in the eyes of heaven she is equal to men. Hawthorne says that at one time a new truth will be seen I heaven so that the whole relation between woman and man can be revealed on a ground that is sure for mutual happiness. According to Peters (1994), this is meant to show that man and woman will come to be equal when the world is ready but this was not the case in the present. Even to this day, there are many struggles that the women are trying to overcome in modern day America. The female heroine, Hester represents feminism and the truth as she unwavers against the wishes of the church, state, family and community.
The psychological anguish of Dimmesdale deepens and makes him come up with new torture for himself. On the other hand Hester’s humility and charitable deeds made her earn a reprieve from the community’s scorn. Another night when she was around seven years, she was accompanied with her mother from visiting the death bed of john Winthrop when they encountered Dimmensdale in the scaffold town and he was trying to punish himself for his own sins. He was joined by Hester and Pearl and they liked hands. (Hawthorne 1999). Pearls request was refused by Dimmesdale that he even went ahead and acknowledged her publicity the following day. The meteor dull red A mark that appeared in the sky was interpreted by friends to mean an Angel because very renowned figure had died in the community that night. According to Dimmesdale, this was not an Angel but was a sign of adultery. When Hester so that the ministers position was deteriorating, she decided to intervene by asking Chillingworth to stop adding torment to Dimmesdale.
Another quote in the story says “She had wandered, without rule or guidance, into a moral wilderness. Her intellect and heart had their home, as it were, in desert places, where she roamed as freely as the wild Indian in his woods. The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers – stern and wild ones – and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.” This indicates that Hester went against the traditions of the society but it later paid for her she opened up the eyes of every man. It also supports the fact that one day men and women will become equal (Hawthorne 1852).
Humanity has always been accompanied by sin and this will continue both in real life and literature. People will always react to sin in various ways. There are those who will hide it, others will run from it and we have those who will embrace it. Regardless of the way in which people handle sin, it will always leave a mark that is so conspicuous. For me the symbol of sin will always be the scarlet A on some dark background.
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