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Poetry Essay, Research Paper

The Conscience s Roll in Dealing with Guilt and Shame

What power the conscience holds, as it can, will bring a person to his doom. Throughout the novel, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of the main characters, Reverend Dimmesdale, expresses his feeling of guilt best by his action. The story evolves around Hester Prynne, the Sinner of Adultery, and her everyday life with her daughter, Pearl. Hester Prynne was sent to live in Boston, by her husband, but has not been seen for two years and is thought to be dead. Hester moves on and has an affair, with whom is a mystery, and along comes Pearl. Hester is punished on the scaffold and the lover never confesses. Hester s sworn secret to her lover s identity is the essence of Dimmesdale s guilt. The significance of the three scaffold scenes shows Dimmesdale s change from weak to strong.

During the first scaffold scene, Hester is publicly humiliated. She is openly punished to the public, for her sin of Adultery. She is ordered to wear a scarlet letter A on the bosom of her clothes for her entire life, and she is to serve three hours of scaffold time, being tortured through embarrassment and humiliation. In this particular scene, Dimmesdale has control of his guilt to the point where he can handle it, by his nonchalant attitude and intrigue to find out who Hester s lover is. Being the pastor, Dimmesdale is asked by Rev. Wilson to talk to Hester. Using this as an opportunity to try and get Hester to confess his sin for him, Dimmesdale asks for a public confession of her lover s name. Keeping her secret, Hester announces that Pearl s father is of a heavenly figure. I will not speak! Any my child must seek a heavenly Father; she shall never known an earthly one! (P 47). The conspiracy of Hester and her lover s relationship and her kept secret, add to the guilt Dimmesdale has. Dimmesdale s guilt continues to grow throughout the novel, leading him to the scaffold two more times.

As the story progresses, Dimmesdale s guilt continues to grow. He is losing his health and will to live. His feelings of guilt are so extreme, he resorts to self-punishment by beating himself with a whip and carving an A in his chest. His punishment was not good enough because it was hidden, unlike Hester s open and visible scarlet letter A . His guilt continues to grow and leads him to the scaffold one again, but, this time, it is in the middle of the night. While on the scaffold, he screams to hopefully awaken the town so that they will discover him on the scaffold and they will realize what he has done. No one witnessing Dimmesdale s attempt to relieve his conscience, he became disappointed. As he stands in guilt, he sees Hester and Pearl and asks them to hold his hands and stand on the scaffold with him. Pearl asks Dimmesdale if they will stand together on the scaffold tomorrow. Dimmesdale s reply is, Not then, Pearl, but another time! At the great judgement day! Then, and there, before the judgement seat, thy mother, and thou, and I, must stand together! But the daylight of this world shall not see our meeting!

(P 105). Pearl and Hester s short visit gave Dimmesdale a temporary relief of his guilt, because they held his hands on the scaffold, like he had wanted. He has finally openly admitted his sin to himself and his family. The only problem was that it was not in the public eye. From here, Dimmesdale s guilt only continues to grow, causing him more anguish and stress. All of his guilt builds up more and more as his identity as the lover remains a secret. He has no choice but to revisit the scaffold one last time.

At the end of the novel, Dimmesdale faces his fear and approaches the scaffold for the last time. His guilt has driven him to a point in his life in which he can no longer bear as the unknown lover. He has become pale and weak, and he is getting closer towards death. He must confess his sin before dying, leaving the guilt and shame behind. The setting for this particular scene is Election Day, a special holiday in the town where the reverend resigns and elects a new one. The sermon given by Dimmesdale will be publicly open and in front of all the townspeople. At this time, Dimmesdale is at a point where he can no longer handle the guilt, and after his sermon, he confesses his sin. He tries to get onto the scaffold but cannot without Hester s help. He then shows his love towards Pearl by asking for a kiss. The public is shocked by this and especially when he shows his scarlet letter A . He tells the crowd, 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! Lo the scarlet letter which Hester wears! Ye have all shuddered at it! Wherever her walk hath been, – wherever, so miserably burdened, she may have hoped to find repose, – it hath cast a lurid gleam of awe and horrible repugnance round about her. But here stood in the midst of you, at those brand of sin and infamy ye have not shuddered! (P 174). After confessing his sin, Dimmesdale is still not relieved. His guilt was the main cause for his illness and when he confessed his sin, he relieved himself of shame. However, his suffering had gone on too long, therefore, he died.

Each scaffold scene in the novel conveys the development of Dimmesdale s character through the plot. The scenes represent a milestone in this development. From the beginning and to the end, Dimmesdale goes through both emotional illness and physical illness. The guilt he holds throughout the novel causes his physical sickness, making him weak and pale, and has his body start to decay. Emotionally, he starts to go into a state of insanity, which is the cause for Chillingworth s care. The every scene containing the scaffold portrays his state of sickness. Dimmesdale is a perfect example in showing how the conscience can control a person and lead them to their destruction.

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