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The Scarlet Letter 12 Essay, Research Paper

The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale of The Scarlet Letter, Arthur Dimmesdale, a main character, is confronted with a number of circumstances, both in and out of his control, that lead to his ultimate demise. Arthur Dimmesdale, a minister, lives his life for the townspeople of Boston and, as a result, becomes a slave to the public opinion. His sin against Hester and Pearl is that he will not acknowledge them as his lover and daughter in the daylight. He keeps his secret from all the parishioners in the church for seven years for fear that he will be cast out and hated by them. He is too weak to admit his sins openly and in their entirety. Instead, he allows his parishioners to believe that he is a good law abiding citizen.

They love him all the more for his honest and modest character, and this is Arthur’s intent. Arthur’s flaw can be found in the fact that he chooses to value the public view above those of Hester, his love, and God, his master. Arthur, punishing himself for his ugly secret, which his need for public approval will not let him reveal, gradually kills himself through guilt and masochistic ritual.

In Mr. Dimmesdale’s secret closet, under lock and key, there was a bloody rod. He was not fasting to purify himself and reach a higher level of understanding, but to use it as a penance for his sin to Hester. He tries to purify himself through introspection but instead tortures himself with guilt, and shame, and pain. Athur allows his guilt and self-hatred to destroy his heart and soul, but he still refuses to confess and repent publicly his great transgression. He is often seen with his hand covering his heart, looking pained and repentant.

Along with having a tragic flaw that destroys his life, a tragic hero must recognize this destruction, invoking awe and pity in the reader. This Arthur does only half-way, making his recognition and repentance incomplete. He confesses openly that he sinned, but he doesn’t confess that he has, for all these years, been oppressed by his need for acceptance. He instead accepts Hester and Pearl, a positive though final step. Author recognized that he should have put aside his desire for public worship when he says: “People of New England!…ye, that have loved me!–ye, that have deemed me holy!–behold me here, the one sinner of the world! At last!–at last!–I stand upon the spot where, seven years since, I should have stood; here, with this woman, whose arm, more than the little strength wherewith I have crept hitherward, sustains me, at this dreadful moment, from grovelling down upon my face!” (220) Even his confession, however, is tainted by the fact that his death is near at hand. Artur dies in the heroine’s arms, publicly and somewhat triumphantly, having gotten a certain amount of ugliness of his scarred chest. The difficult blow of his adulterous fornication is softened for onlookers because his pain and impending death are so apparent.

Arthur had the benefit of the confession without the painful aftermath, and because his confession comes so close to his death, he is only remembered as the good man that he was and not the father of Hester’s child. Arthur is a frustrating character because he cannot allow himself to face the reality that would cause him to grow as a man. It is hard to feel sorry for him.

To truly be a tragic hero, Arthur would have to have been a great and respectable man to begin with. This is not the case. Arthur must have been a weak, dependent man before he ever entangled his life with Hester’s. Instead of overcoming his weakness, Arthur lives as a sinner, allowing Hester to be the strong and moral one for them both.

Arthur Dimmesdale is not a strong character. His story is tragic of its own accord, but that it brings forth pity for him is questionable. Arthur is aware of his character flaws and does end up destroyed as a man, but that he was ever much of a man to begin with is doubtful. Arthur Dimmesdale cannot, really, be viewed as a tragic hero, for he falls short of the qualifications expected of such a role.


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