The Veiling of Perception by Passion
In the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester and Dimmesdale are entangled in self-delusion because they are both caught up in a false interpretation of their respective sins and in an opaque vision of a better life. Hester is confused by her own interpretation of the Scarlet Letter, and Dimmesdale is caught up in Hester’s inspiring words for a better life.
Hester is disillusioned by the fact that she thinks her punishment and the burdens of her punishment will evaporate along with the removal of the Scarlet Letter. She feels as if she has done her share of penance. Hester asks Dimmesdale why they should “linger upon [the sin] now when “[she] could undo it all” She believes that they should not dwell on their sin and that the sin can be obliterated by literally ripping off the Letter. Hester also believes that she can “undo it all” by removing the Letter off her chest. The situation stated here shows that her delusion gives way to the misleading on her part. After removing the Letter, Hester feels “exquisite relief,” a feeling that she had not “known the weight.” Hester feels as if a burden is lifted from her shoulders; this is her freedom. But more importantly, Hester neglects the fact that the Scarlet Letter burdens her conscience as well. Materially, the Letter is an article of clothing for punishment and can be removed from the body physically, but not mentally. The “other” form of penance, however, is physically intangible; it cannot be cast off her conscience. Therefore, her removal of the Scarlet Letter has compelled Hester to believe that she can live without obligation to her punishment by taking it off. And this self-delusion misleads her to not think realistically, and not fully understand that she cannot get rid of her sin or the punishment from her conscience.
Dimmesdale is revealed to be caught up in Hester’s vision, reflected in his reaction to the release and purge of his sin and penance. He is thankful of Hester for aiding him in his transmutation from gloom in to one of happiness. After feeling pardoned by society according to Hester, Dimmesdale feels “a glow of strange enjoyment” that had an “exhilarating effect” on him. He feels as if he is finally free from his torment of sin. Beforehand, Dimmesdale never experiences such elation; he had only known torment and anguish. But now a “free atmosphere” envelops Dimmesdale. He thinks that he can now live free of his penance; his reaction shows his child-like desire to be free from his penance. Dimmesdale describes the nature of the current situation by saying that God is “merciful.” Dimmesdale believes that God has now forgiven him and bestowed “merciful” blessings upon him. However, his evidence for joy only exists because of Hester’s words of encouragement. Dimmesdale says that beforehand, he was “sick, sin-stained, and sorrow-blackened,” but now he “[has] risen up all made anew.” The words “sin-stained” and “made anew” show a stark contrast between the “start and finish” of his change. The ensuing joy shows that Dimmesdale is caught up in Hester’s words. He directly gives credit to Hester for the change in his manner and refers to her as “[his] better angel.” The word “angel” personifies a savior or a heroine. If it were not for her words of encouragement, Dimmesdale would have thought a moment and found that society, in fact, would not forgive him. Out in the forest, he is free and innocent, but in society and his community, the knowledge of his sin would be devastating to his already tormented morale. Therefore, he is caught up in a more positive and optimistic outlook and looks towards Hester’s words and vision of a better life.
In the last two paragraphs in the selected passage, Hester and Dimmesdale’s belief that God and Nature were responsible for their return from a fall from grace shows that their perception is obscured by passion; the imagery of the forest and the changing surroundings further affects the couple. After removing the Letter, she feels “exquisite relief” and had not “known the weight until she felt freedom.” Hester is so overcome by her passion for a better life without the Letter that she thinks her “freedom” from the Letter will solve all her troubles. Hawthorne creates a scene where Hester’s hidden beauty illuminates and shines upon the gloomy forest. Hawthorne uses the phrase, “a sudden smile of heaven” to describe the oncoming rays of light. This shows that Nature has sympathized with Hester’s and Dimmesdale’s situation and forgiven them. The fact that the force behind this phenomenon is “heaven” boosts their morale. This shows that Goad and/or Nature is at looking out for them. Hawthorne also writes that the “Nature of the forest [is] never subjugated by human law.” He is saying that society’s rules and punishments have no power or jurisdiction in the forest of Mother Nature. Thus, Hester and Dimmesdale feel that Nature is sympathizing in their situation by shining light and pardoning them. This shows that Hester and Dimmesdale’s perception of a better life and Nature’s recommendation have compelled them to envision a blockade of the world around them, and thereby impose the rise of ambitions and aspirations for a better life.
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