A Sin Greater Than Forgiveness In Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

“Happy are you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret!” (Hawthorne)

In The Scarlett Letter Arthur Dimmesdale expresses great spiritual torment and shame from the secret he holds inside him, he expresses his agony by inflicting pain on himself to absolve his sins. Reverend Voltattorni preaches how “wretched” human beings are and how they all carry around guilt, but some hide it better than others. Voltattorni highlights that Christ died on the cross, taking away all of mankind’s sins. But because Dimmesdale lives in a constant state of fear, he does not believe that he will be forgiven. Throughout the novel Dimmesdale has shown his congregation what a strong and powerful preacher he is, by talking about topics that would be important in their lives. This shows that Dimmesdale could have given Voltattorni’s sermon because of how he relates to the topic of sin and the shame that comes with it.

Reverend Dimmesdale is a transitional character in that he is, at the beginning of the novel, deceitful both inside and out, and by the end of the novel he becomes both inwardly and outwardly truthful. In this story of deception and adultery, Hawthorne introduces Dimmesdale as a weak and cowardly man who refuses to take responsibility for his actions. If Dimmesdale weren’t a religious man, he would not care about his crime. However, he does care, and he inflicts torture on himself, including long periods of fasting. “In Mr. Dimmesdale’s secret closet, under lock and key, there was a bloody scourge”. Dimmesdale was so overcome by his shame and guilt that the only way to make himself feel remotely better about himself was to inflict pain and torture onto himself. However, Dimmesdale found, in himself, the strength needed to overcome his guilt and soon realized, “the judgement of God is on me. answered the conscience-stricken priest. It is too mighty for me to struggle with”! Dimmesdale realizes that he cannot hide from the power of God and must confess to relieve himself of his suffering. It is quite ironic that Dimmesdale asked for God’s forgiveness considering he never believed that God would forgive him. With this is mind, Dimmesdale could have given Voltattorni’s sermon accounting for the fact that his character changed from the beginning to end of the novel.

As a minister, Dimmesdale has a voice that consoles and has an ability to sway audiences. His congregation adores him, and his parishioners seek his advice. For Dimmesdale, however, his effectiveness betrays his desire to confess. “His intellectual gifts, his moral perceptions, his power of experiencing and communicating emotion, were kept in a state of preternatural activity by the prick and anguish of daily life”. The more he suffers, the better his sermons become, and the more he whips himself, the more eloquent he is on Sunday which lead to his congregation growing in their faith. Dimmesdale’s sermons focus on the topic of sin and the people’s relationship with God. He dedicated himself to preaching, but after the great sin that he committed, he has been giving sermons that ate him up inside and which he didn’t believe. The strong contrast between how Dimmesdale sees himself and how the lord sees him is what leads to him being overcome by his guilt. Dimmesdale believes that the Lord will not forgive him, but, “the church is not a place of those already righteous, but sinners” (Voltattorni). Voltattorni makes a point that God accepts all into his kingdom no matter how great the sin. Still, Dimmesdale cannot and will not let himself believe that he will be forgiven, but still gives sermons of sermon, even if he didn’t believe that God forgives all. He would do it for his congregation, so they know that the Lord will forgive all sinners.

Guilt ridden, Dimmesdale kept himself from confessing the one sin, that ate him up from the inside out, to his congregation. Throughout the novel Dimmesdale had tried on various occasions to confess his sin to the people of Boston, but each time he backed down, afraid of the consequences that might follow. “At last — at last I stand upon the spot where, seven years since, I should have stood”. Dimmesdale speaks these words in the novel’s last scene when he is standing by Hester and little Pearl, he takes responsibility for his actions. Dimmesdale acknowledges that he has delayed owning up to his past sin and implies that he had left Hester to suffer alone. Dimmesdale could have confessed at any given moment but waited till the end of the novel, before he was set to leave Boston with Hester. He did so because he believed that he would be judged, Dimmesdale didn’t want his congregation to lose their faith because their pastor committed adultery. He confesses his sin in the only way that he knows to be true, in front of all the people he was dishonest to and he does so through the influence of the Lord. He came to the realization that salvation did not come from his congregation, but from the Lord himself. Dimmesdale very well could have given Voltattorni’s sermon before he died, he possessed the strength and motivation to preach to his congregation the great forgiveness of the Lord.

All in all, Dimmesdale possessed the strength to give Voltattorni’s sermon because of his strong desire to confess his sins. In Voltattorni’s sermon, he spoke that all men are sinners and are weak, and they must ask for forgiveness to receive redemption. Arthur found it difficult to confess, but deep inside he found the strength needed to do so. His salvation, in Christ, has been achieved and he no longer had to live in fear.


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