Scarlet Letter Essay

1416 words - 6 pages

“Burn the witch!” has been a condemning cry for centuries, but those flames are not always real. Words, looks, and guilt can burn a sinner far more effectively than the pyre ever could, as evidenced by the torments inflicted on the sinners in The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Each of the characters was burned in a different way, just as they represent different types of sin. Hester Prynne, the adulteress, represents open, acknowledged, and public shame. Through her, we recognize that acknowledging sin eventually leads to forgiveness and healing, in contrast with Reverend Dimmesdale, who represents the festering wound of concealed sin. And the depraved man who seems to be sent to torment them both, Roger Chillingworth, represents revenge, and punishment for sin. Hester Prynne, who wears the Scarlet Letter, has her ignominy before the whole world. Her scarlet A reminds both Hester and everyone else that she is an adulteress. Much of The Scarlet Letter talks about her treatment at the hands of the townspeople, because her transgressions are out in the open, and they can punish her. On the other end of the spectrum is the Reverend Dimmesdale, who fairly goes mad from guilt. Every person considers him a godly, amazing man, while he has actually sinned as much as Hester. His concealed sin eats away at him, and he constantly wishes that he would be brave enough to confess. Some of Dimmesdale’s torments are the cause of Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s former husband. Through Chillingworth, Hawthorne reveals the evilness of revenge. He also represents the punishment for Hester and Dimmesdale’s sin, and is a physical manifestation of their torment. At the same time, Chillingworth is both revenge and punishment. And in addition to telling us of their torments or anger, Hawthorne drops little clues to remind us of the nature of the character’s sin.
In Hester’s case, both her Scarlet Letter and her daughter Pearl are physical symbols of her sin, and remind us that she represents public shame and open sin. This quote, from when Hester is first put on the scaffold for the townspeople to see her and her punishment, and where she refers to the letter and the baby as tokens of her shame, illustrates that fact. “In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm…” (44). Hester’s open sin is represented by these 2 tokens, as they are something that people can constantly see, so her shame is never forgotten. The letter and Pearl are “tokens of shame,” and are symbols of her open sin. Another quote is from an argument between Hester and the governor, where they are arguing about Hester’s right to keep Pearl. “She is my happiness!—she is my torture, none the less!” (93). Pearl symbolizes the torment that comes from public shame, and is a reminder of her mother’s adultery. Open sin can be constantly seen and spoken of by others, just as Pearl is. Pearl...

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