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Scarlet Letter Essay, Research Paper

For Every Action There is a Reaction: the Affects of Sin in The Scarlet Letter

According to Webster??s Collegiate Dictionary, sin is defined as an action that is or is felt to be highly reprehensible. The average person would agree that it is only in human nature to sin. Therefore the severity of such transgressions is diluted with that simple justification. However, the less frequently discussed and oftentimes the more important issue is the effects of a man or woman??s sin. Nathaniel Hawthorne??s The Scarlet Letter revolves around the single theme of the unforgivable, adulterous sin which affects Hester Prynne, Pearl, and Roger Chillingworth to their very cores.

First, because of this unforgivable sin, Hester was forced to live as the social outcast for the rest of her days. Hester makes her first public appearance clad in the scarlet letter when she first emerges out of the cold dark prison. It is described as ??so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom?? (37). Hawthorne continues to say ??It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity and enclosing her in a sphere by herself?? (37). Since the scarlet letter symbolizes sin, it is the ultimate source of social isolation for her. Hester is in a sphere of her own where her sin affects her livelihood and has completely isolated her from the world. The prison marks the beginning of a new life for Hester; a life filled with coping with consequences. Guilt is a consequence of sin that Hester must endure throughout her life, which also begins to have a profound effect on her life and thinking.

Then, Pearl evolved into the very manifestation of Hester??s sin. Pearl is not just a passive reminder of Hester??s terrible deed; on the contrary, she is active in the role of torturing her mother. From the very beginning she drives to cause Hester to suffer. ??But that first object of which Pearl seemed to become aware was–shall we say it?–the scarlet letter on Hester’s bosom!?? (66). This small movement of the baby??s hand causes immense amounts of pain in Hester. Then, when Pearl is older she ??she amused herself with gathering handfuls of wild-flowers, and flinging them, one by one, at her mother’s bosom; dancing, up and down, like a little elf, whenever she hit the scarlet letter?? (67). Hester begins to wonder if Pearl really is a demon??s offspring ??through the agency?? of her sin. Also, Pearl must suffer with her mother in the same seclusion from society. Children sometimes gather around her, and Pearl flings stones at them while screaming out incoherent exclamations at them. In the end, what she gets what she really wanted all along which validation from her real father, the Reverend Dimmesdale. It is only then that Pearl becomes a more dynamic character than a living symbol of Hester??s sin.

Finally, although Roger Chillingworth appears to be sinned against in the beginning, he ultimately is the greatest sinner of all. His first wrong is that he marries Hester without love. Roger feels like he did not deserve such a young, beautiful wife, therefore he does put the blame on her for cheating on him. This is apparent when he says “We have wronged each other. Mine was the first wrong, when I betrayed thy budding youth into an unnatural relation with my decay” (51&52). Because Roger does blame whoever betrayed him with Hester, this is the reasoning behind the next sin he commits. He lies when he enters Boston under the pseudonym of Roger Chillingworth (his true surname is Prynne). Under the mask of his sin, he has the freedom to hunt down the man who committed adultery with his wife. After he discovers with absolute certainty that Dimmesdale is the father of the child, he makes it his mission to put Dimmesdale through an earthly version of hell. Dimmesdale is consumed by the overwhelming fear of being discovered for the sinner that he really is and fails to notice that he let his biggest enemy move in with him. Chillingworth begins to mentally torture Dimmesdale. The Reverend eventually succumbs to the torture on the scaffold and goes to meet his maker. However, unlike Dimmesdale, Chillingworth gains more than he lost by lying.

In conclusion, The Scarlet Letter is directed by the single theme of the unforgivable sin of adultery that alters the very being of Hester Prynne, Pearl, and Roger Chillingworth. Because of this unforgivable sin, Hester was forced to live as the social outcast for the rest of her days. Pearl evolved into the very manifestation of Hester??s sin. Although Roger Chillingworth appears to be sinned against in the beginning, he ultimately is the greatest sinner of all. It is amazing how a single transgression can disfigure the lives of many.


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