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Scarlet Letter 9009 Essay, Research Paper
People live with lies every day. Everyone from the President of the
United States to the poorest beggar in New York City has told a lie. White
lies, gray lies, and plain old dirty fat lies are strewn forth every day like
water from a fountain. The only true difference between them is the amount
of guilt they place on the liar. If they feel guilt, then they suffer greatly
throughout their lives, from lots of small indiscretions or just once large
one. The majority of the people in this world have the ability to alleviate
their guilt through some kind of penance, but for some that is not enough.
Anything they do can not repeal the feeling of guilt and the knowledge they
did something wrong. People like this make themselves sick with worry
and regret, and they often die of their disease: depression. Those people
who do manage to drop their guilt become productive members of society
again because they have reconnected with the rest of the human race. They
don?t deny their guilt or their crimes, they just acknowledge there are some
things they cannot change, they can just try to make up for them. In The
Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne the decision of the characters to
either admit or hide the truth determines the quality of their lives. While
Hester Pryne admits her sins and resolves them over time through her
charity work, Arthur Dimmsdale bottles up his sins and, even though he
physically tortures himself, cannot resolve his great misdeeds..
The first character to choose a path is Hester Pryne. While she did
have a child when she hadn?t seen her husband in over a year, (a dead
giveaway) she could have easily fled the colony before the birth. She
instead stayed and faced her peers, and in that way she admitted her sin. To
flee would have led her along a completely different path, one of denial.
Hester didn?t quite buy into all the Puritan ideals, but she knew adultery was
a sin against God, it said so in the bible. Only the tremendous courage she
had, and the large sense of righteousness in her blood kept her from fleeing.
And she obviously believed that her form of penance, would be enough to
gain her sanctity in the eyes of God, even though the Puritans held opposing
beliefs: ?The Scarlet Letter explicitly declares the impossibility of
redemption for the sinner.? (pg#) If you don?t let the world share in your
guilt, it will all be upon you, and only you. With the crushing weight of
guilt she would have had she would not lived longer than those seven years.
Even the Puritan people who openly despised her at the time she exposed
her sin, eventually were won over by her vast charity work. They begin to
associate the letter A with able, and not adultery. And all she accomplished
was because she spoke the truth, and the truth wasn?t really as bad as it
looked. Her husband was an old misshapen man who she had no love for.
He had been gone for a long period of time, and maybe she believed that he
was even dead. Her sin was remote and not completely justified in the
morals of these modern times, and she grasped that even then. The author
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote it best: ?Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely
to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be
inferred.? (242) If all the people know your worst, only then can they begin
to work through that and begin to see your best. If all they see is the good
side of you, then you are holding back from them, lying to them. Only
when you show both sides do you begin to gain penance, and that is exactly
what Hester Pryne did. While Hester Pryne gained freedom from her guilt,
Dimmsdale?s failure to admit his crime slowly destroyed his life.
Dimmsdale never confessed his sin, even though he was given
numerous opportunities. And, like Chillingsworth said at the end of the
book, a confession would have ended Chillingsworth?s evil prematurely:
?There was no place where thou couldst have escaped me!? (236) In an
obvious parallel to Hester?s stout and quick admittance, Dimmsdale is the
contradiction: he suffers great agony and fails to admit his sin until minutes
before his death (a cowardly way out). His great Puritanical beliefs left him
no recourse really: one of the main faults of Puritanism (and most
Protestantism) is the lack of a way to cleanse yourself of sins: there is no
described way to lay down your guilt. While Hester suffered those seven
years with the townspeople united against her, Dimmsdale gained prestige
and fame due to his great preaching. He led wondrously moving sermons
on honesty and the fate of those who did not come clean with God. The
horribly ironic thing is that this would have gained him penance in our time:
many former drug addicts make their living giving motivational lectures to
groups pleading with them not to make the same mistakes. The only
difference is the same one at the roots of all Dimmsdale?s problems: these
drug users were all admitted junkies. Dimmsdale wasn?t, and that just made
him a gigantic hypocrite. Instead Dimmsdale spent seven long years with a
horrible secret burning in his heart, and later his chest. He used a bloody
scourge to inflict a hideous wound upon himself in a misguided attempt to
gain penance: ?Some affirmed that the Reverend Mr. Dimmsdale had begun
a course of penance: which he afterwards, in so many futile methods,
followed out- by inflicting a hideous torture on himself.? (240) The key
word in that quote is ?futile?; the theme of his denial cannot be emphasized
enough. All of his hidden sin also allowed one Mr. Chillingsworth to take
advantage of him. Why the effect of the medicines that Chillingsworth gave
to Mr. Dimmsdale are never mentioned in the book (and highly debated
even now) I firmly believe that they are what kept him alive those seven
years. The only thing worse than horrible suffering leading to an early
death is long, drawn out horrible suffering leading to death. And
Hawthorne pulled no punches in describing the quality of life that
Dimmsdale enjoyed: ?Hawthorne?s portrait of the twistings and windings of
a guilty conscience is finely observed and vividly rendered.? (pg#) Truly
Hawthorne must have had some horrible insight into a guilty conscience
sometime during his life, or he just really disagreed with every single
principle of Puritanism (maybe both). Truly, (no pun intended) Dimmdale?s
failure to live honestly witch ravaged the quality of his life.
Hester Pryne?s life of charity and honesty, blurred only with her great
sin, ended with the love of her daughter and her ultimate forgivance.
Dimmsdale?s life of dishonesty and hypocrisy led him down a winding
spiral of despair and depression with only a meager attempt at forgiveness
near the end of his life. The decision of the characters in The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne to either admit or hide the absolute truths in their
lives determined the quality of their lives. The guilty in this world will
always have a choice, no matter how difficult it is. They can take Hester?s
route: admit their sins and strive the rest of their lives to gain forgiveness.
Or they can take Dimmsdale?s route: Repress their sins and forever live with
that awful feeling at the bottom of your stomach that the guilty have.
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