Analysis Of Sin In The Scarlet Letter

1683 words - 7 pages

“He that falls into sin is a man; that grieves at it, is a saint; that boasteth of it, is a devil” (Thomas Fuller). Every human being who has lived has sinned. As such, sin cannot be judged or punished merely for the act. Rather, other considerations should be taken into account. Sin is a universal concept of imperfect behavior independent of religious affiliation and is practiced universally. The range of acts and thoughts covered by sin is vast; Hawthorne critically explores the strict, inflexible Puritanical approach to sin and its implication for individuals and society. Hawthorne investigates the intent behind sin in The Scarlet Letter using Dimmesdale and Chillingworth in order to criticize the Puritan Code and to demonstrate the ramifications intent can have on the sinner’s ability to earn forgiveness and gain redemption.
Dimmesdale’s and Hester’s sin of adultery serves as the original plot device for the novel, and the interpretation and judgment of this sin develops continually. At the start of the novel, however, Dimmesdale’s role has not yet been revealed to the reader. Readers will come to the realization that he is Pearl’s father independently at different points, which Hawthorne does purposefully. By not immediately and explicitly stating Dimmesdale’s sin, it adds to the reader’s sense of immorality, especially upon reflection of Dimmesdale’s position in the community and his speech to Hester as she stands upon the scaffold. “I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer! Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him” (Hawthorne 65). The hypocrisy of the situation may cause readers to judge the reverend more harshly, leaving more room for contemplation of his sin and progressive judgment as Hawthorne leads the reader to a softer opinion. In the forest scene in which Hester seeks out Dimmesdale for a talk, their passion for one another becomes obvious, though it has been seven years since the affair. Combined with the previous revelations that the lovers had likely thought Chillingworth was dead and that his marriage with Hester had been loveless and ill begotten from the beginning, the reader can form a far more forgiving response to Dimmesdale’s sin. Some readers will even begin to doubt that a sin took place at all. The idea that the sin was committed out of passion and love erases much of its stigma.
Even so, Dimmesdale spends the majority of the novel hiding his sin from his congregation, causing a rapid decline in his health and in effect multiplying the original sin. He feels constant guilt for not divulging his secret to the congregation, yet he can never quite explicitly reveal himself and finishes each sermon regretting that “he had spoken the very truth, and transformed it into the veriest falsehood” (Hawthorne 141). His hypocrisy from the pulpit makes the reader cringe, as he delivers sermons that thinly mask his guilt yet which the townspeople repeatedly...

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