Ruination of Conscience in The Scarlet Letter

April 28, 2022 by Essay Writer

Secrets, no matter how small, can have a drastic effect on others views. The Scarlet Letter is a great example on no matter how small the secret is there will always be retribution. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter uses symbolism in the representation of heart problems present in the character Arthur Dimmesdale, a respected reverend with a hand seemingly stuck over his heart, which leads the readers to deduce his possible secrets that are withheld, later revealed. The dark romantic novel also reveals the pain and destruction – sometimes self-destruction – caused by these suppressed sins. The puritan religion is based on the belief of humans being totally depraved and therefore creatures unworthy of God, the ideals are based on fear, so, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s previous familial knowledge in the Salem Witch Trials allowed him to further create his complex characters that struggle with puritanism. The many characters such as Arthur Dimmesdale, Hester Prynne, and Roger Chillingworth were ultimately led to their downfall through tribulations due to their beliefs which ties an anchor to their ankle. There is a prominent internal and physical struggle with the Reverend Dimmesdale in withholding the truth as he is a devoted follower of Puritanism. The main characters are used as a vehicle to portray the pressures of a nineteenth century Puritan society by weakening a reverend and causing him to doubt his own beliefs and also changed a once normal individual into a Satanic like creature hell-bent on exposing the reverends secrets and proving the cynical needs of man.

In the beginning of the novel the readers are introduced by a gothic imagery of a medieval architecture that is studded with iron spikes and gloomy, the “virgin soil” (35) is used “as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.” (35) This narrator is already detailing that Man who is corrupt is ruining truly pure nature and is spoiling the beauty, puritanism is being diminished because it has destroyed nature and also symbolizing how his own characters were changed because of corrupt Man. Characters such as Roger Chillingworth, a respected Doctor who does not reveal his secret of his arrival in order to find his wife’s lover in anonymity, tells Hester he will find the “scarlet letter on his heart” (57) to show how secrets will always come out in time especially with puritan ideals. Chillingworth becomes more self-destructive in an attempt to find the adulterer and his actions become more wicked. There is a progression in the character of Chillingworth as he started off as a “young scholar” into a “Black Man” who is often characterized as Satan, which foreshadows his retaliatory personality seeming to be desperate to find the truth but is now interested in revenge.

Hester Prynne, a character whose secrets were exposed to society, has to bear the burden of her truth by the means of a scarlet letter, the motif of secrets revealed vs secrets concealed is ever present between Hester, Chillingworth, and Dimmesdale. Hester has to bear her secret in public in the form of Pearl and her scarlet letter while Dimmesdale’s pain is within himself and he keeps a scarlet letter in his heart. Hester Prynne’s suppression of truth led to her public destruction and her banishment from society. She learns to accept her scarlet letter even rejecting the removal because she doesn’t want others to make the same mistake as she did. Her pain and destruction became her strength and rebuilt her. Pearl is quite blind to the subject of her mother but was told by an old lady that her scarlet letter came from the “black man” who is Satan, Hester keeps her secret and denies any wrongdoing but she keeps her eyes on her daughter as she is the offspring of her wrongdoing and will possess ugly traits.

Pearl is an ironic character because from a wrongdoing something beautiful can come out which was not expected. She is a type of chiaroscuro because from something dark, light can come. Hester Prynne is at fault for her secret a little more than Dimmesdale, she keeps his secret to protect his reputation and does not give Chillingworth his name to protect his identity and she also promises to not reveal Chillingworth’s identity so he may find Dimmesdale. Hester permits this and causes the death of Dimmesdale not only but keeping his secret but allowing Chillingworth to go after him. If she did not allow Chillingworth to keep his secret, his sanity would’ve been saved and if she revealed Dimmesdale’s secrets his problems with guilt would’ve been lifted but Dimmesdale and Hester were too focused on his reputation too see what was truly happening deep down. The cynical views of man who only want the comfort of peace, his puritan ideals later come for him and cause him to become overwhelmed with his secrets.

Dimmesdale’s temptations almost prove to be too much in chapter 20 “Minister in a Maze”. Dimmesdale was tempted many times after Hester Prynne allowed him to decide what he really wanted, and this caused him to spiral. The gothic chapter is now an antithetical condemnation of puritanism possibly similar to the view of the narrator who provides a mocking tone which reflects his identity writing, “But on this occasion, up to the moment of putting his lips to the old woman’s ear… immortality of the human soul.” There is an interior conflict in Dimmesdale, and he is resisting puritanism and the author uses progression and anaphora to emphasize how his behavior is becoming erratic and repetitive and he is no longer using god as a limit to his actions. The metaphoric “last temptation” (169) similar to how Christ was tempted before going to heaven shows symbolism connecting to Jesus’ lure by Satan who offered the world only in he accepted Satan and this can be shown by Hester who like Satan tempts him with the promise of a future filled with freedom. This may be received as Dimmesdale finally accepting Hester and his sin, but his inner conscience is battling with him on leaving the religion just like Satan did to Christ. This also ultimately foreshadows his death due to the excessive pressures of withholding the truth. Dimmesdale also self-punishes himself as an attempt to reclaim himself after his unforgiving act in the eyes of God.


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