Living and Learning: the Right to Salvation (the Scarlet Letter)

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The Scarlet Letter is a novel about love and jealousy, sin and shame, passion and compassion. It is a tale of a woman named Hester Prynne, who engaged in adultery with the town minister, and as a result, bore permanent consequences from this sin throughout the remainder of their lives. While Minister Dimmesdale denied this sin and expressed his regret through shows of self-abuse and crippling guilt, Hester embraced her sins as past experience and learned from them in order to find her own identity. While the entire novel is rich with allegory and imagery, the conclusion to be drawn is this: Free will is God’s indispensable gift to humanity, and we must allow ourselves to be open to salvation in light of the choices we make. This theme is expressed through the necessity of sin to find knowledge, Hester’s embracing of the scarlet letter, the difference in the quality of life between Hester and Dimmesdale based on their coping mechanisms, and the very being of Hester and Dimmesdale’s daughter, Pearl.

As stated, a major theme in the novel is that of free will and necessary acceptance of the consequences of one’s decision. Hester and Dimmesdale’s situation is comparable to that of Adam and Eve. Like Adam and Eve, the characters in the novel are made aware of their humanness through sin, that is, the realization that free will separates them from other creatures. Once expelled from society, or in Adam and Eve’s case, the Garden of Eden, they are forced to toil and procreate, the tasks that seem to define the human condition. The story of Hester and Dimmesdale recalls the story of Adam and Eve because, in both cases, sin results in expulsion and suffering. However, most significantly, it also results in knowledge. The knowledge of what it means to be human.

The scarlet letter was intended by the Puritan elders to be a mark of sinfulness, and therefore, shame. However, for Hester, the scarlet letter is “her passport into regions where other women dared not...
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