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Scarlet Letter Essay, Research Paper

The human mind is a powerful force and often works in unexplainable and mysterious ways. In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne shows this through the lives and actions of Hester Prynne, Roger Chillingworth and Arthur Dimmesdale; three characters in a Puritan society who are affected by the sin of adultery. Each character gives a perspective of how the beliefs of the human mind control one’s body and quality of life.

Hester is the woman found guilty of committing adultery, and as punishment, is forced to wear a scarlet letter A on her chest. Hester believes that she has sinned, and thinks that she can redeem herself by doing good in the Puritan community. She is constantly reminded of her sin by her daughter, Pearl, who asks endless questions about the scarlet letter, yet Hester remains a strong role model to her. With Hester’s positive attitude and by living her life the ways she is, “many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said it meant Able,; so strong was Hester Prynne” (page 148). Hester is ‘Able’ because she is a single mother raising a daughter, is skillful ay sewing, and also is considerate by giving money to the poor even though she does not have much herself. At one point during a brief period of happiness in the woods, Hester tears off the scarlet letter from her bosom, and removes her hair cap. Suddenly, her mind is free of the burdens she has endured, and she is physically beautiful again. In this short time, where she is happy and her mind is set free, her body also changes and the beauty she once had reappears.

Roger Chillingworth was once a kind-hearted man, and is also Hester’s husband, although no one else is aware of this. When he discovers that the father of Hester’s child is Dimmesdale, he slowly changes from a good, trustworthy man to an evil parasite possessed with revenge. His overwhelming jealously causes Chillingworth a lot of distress, and as he mentally becomes vengeful, his physical deformity worsens, and he also appears to be more evil and sinful. Much like a leech he used to hurt Dimmesdale, Chillingworth attaches himself to Dimmesdale’s soul, and is consumed with punishing, torturing, and sucking all the life out of him, like a leech does to its host. Chillingworth is so attached that once Dimmesdale dies, he himself dies within a year, as if he now has nothing to live for.

Perhaps the greatest example of ‘mind over body’ is the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. Feeling guilty about the sin he committed, Dimmesdale repeatedly tortures himself both physically and mentally. Dimmesdale believes that torturing himself in the privacy of his home will make up for a public confession. He thinks that because of the sin he committed, and himself being a Puritan minister, he does not deserve anything but pain. The Puritan age is a time when people in society are expected to be literally perfect and free from sin, but under all the strict rules and regulations, one will eventually break down from all the stress and pressure. This is what happens to Dimmesdale. His mind is filled with chaos, as he sincerely wants to confess, but is unable to do so. As time goes by, Dimmesdale becomes more ill and weak. Finally, Dimmesdale confesses moments before he dies, and when he does, a scarlet letter A is seen on Dimmesdale’s chest. Although it is not certain how this mark appeared or how long it has been there, a possible explanation might be that through all the self-inflicted punishment, self-torture and guilt, Dimmesdale’s mind and conscience afflicted a scarlet A on his chest.

In varying ways, these three characters of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter are forced to deal with the sin of adultery. Their actions are dramatically based on what their minds believe. Hester has the most strength; she is able to move on, live a life of integrity, and become accepted by society. Chillingworth is so consumed with revenge that eventually it consumes his life, and Dimmesdale is so caught up on how he should be punished that he too, is consumed. Hawthorne shows that the perceptions of the human mind controls the quality of life, and as seen in the lives of Hester, Chillingworth, and Dimmesdale, the mind IS powerful enough to do so.


Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthrone

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