The Different Shades of Sins An Irish Proverb states “All Sins cast long shadows. ” Throughout the novel, The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne viewed the sins as a spectrum of many colors. The novel revolves around Hester Prynne, who is convicted of adultery in colonial Salem by the Puritan society. For her punishment, she is condemned to wear the red scarlet letter "A" on her chest as a permanent sign of her sin.
Exposing to sin and the temptation of its concealment in capricious degrees, Nathaniel Hawthorne demonstrated the different shades of sins through the actions of several main characters, Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth. In the beginning of the book, we learn Hester Prynne committed the sin of adultery. Although meant to crush Hester’s spirit, she is proud of her sin and becomes a strong, tough minded character. While the author Hawthorne has Puritan heritage, he portrays Hester as one of the most “able” of people in Salem because she confessed her sin.
While the religious and high ranking citizens of Salem continue to ridicule her for being and adulteress, “many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification” (168). The product of this sin was Hester’s daughter Pearl. Unlike the way of the Puritans, Hester creates “beauty, shining through the gorgeous robes” (87) of Pearl, and thus Pearl stands out in crowds. To Hester, her sin was marrying someone she did not love, Roger Chillingworth. In the eyes of Hester and Dimmesdale, they are not “the worst sinners in the world.
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There is one worse than even the polluted priest! That old man's revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester, never did so! ” (225) Going against the heart is the greatest sin possible to Hester and Dimmesdale and their “sin” was between two people who truly loved each other. Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale is the father of Pearl and the one who committed the sin of adultery with Hester. As a man of high power in Salem, he does not confess the sin and the mental guilt would slowly kill him.
Eventually, “his moral force was abased into more than childish weakness” (105) Through the ability Hester has shown and the miserable state of Dimmesdale, Hawthorne shows the power of confessing a sin. In an attempt to escape for their pasts, Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale plan to leave Salem. However, Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s legal husband, also catches a ride on the same boat. Returning to Salem, Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl go the scaffold, the place where Hester is originally condemned. In his dieing moments, Dimmesdale confesses his sin in front of the townspeople while also revealing a self inflicted “A” on his chest.
Of all the sinners, Roger Chillingworth was the biggest. First, his sin of marrying a younger women and sending her over sees causes the adultery claim. When he arrives in Salem and learns of this, he commits his biggest sin… violating the human heart. Rather than Hester’s adultery being her sin, Hawthorne goes against Puritan values by making violating the heart Hester’s true sin. At first, Chillingworth asks Hester to “speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer! " (56) When she refuses, Chillingworth becomes an evil man, becoming uglier by the day.
This shows that an unconfessed sin will kill you. Eventually, he becomes aware of the adultery with Hester and becomes Dimmesdale’s “leech. ” After Dimmesdale dies, Chillingworth dies because he has no reason to live anymore. Based on Puritan beliefs, sin is an inescapable aspect of life. Hawthorne shows that Dimmesdale and Chillingworth both die because of their hidden sin. Contrary to this Hester, who confessed, lives a long, happy life. Since sin is inescapable, the only way to make up for it is by confessing or else the sin swill shadow you forever.
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