English IV AP
Sin in The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850, in Salem Massachusetts. Some refer to the novel as a recollection of the story of Adam and Eve. Just as Adam and Eve were exiled for eating an apple from the Garden of Eden, Hester is exiled from the Puritan community (Kaul, 1986, p.13). Just as sin is a common theme in the story of Adam and Eve; sin is also a common theme in The Scarlet Letter. Nathaniel Hawthorne portrays the theme of sin through Pearl, Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth’s varying representations of sin. Pearl
To begin, Pearl is the result of Hester’s sin. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester compares Pearl to the scarlet A when she states, “She is the scarlet letter only capable of being loved” (Sterling, 2008, p. 234). Hester goes further to state, Pearl is an “emblem and product of sin” (Sterling, 2008, p. 234). Pearl has wildness to her nature. She is referred to as an “airy sprite,” “little elf,” “spirit,” and “little laughing image of a fiend.” In the Puritan view nature represents wildness and wildness represents untamed passion, which in turn results in sin (Wagenknecht, 1998, p. 57). This natural wildness in her does not allow her to follow the rules. This connects her to the scarlet letter because it, like Pearl, represents the inability to follow the rules (Brodhead, 1986, 167). Some people think of Pearl as a demon child. She pretends to destroy the children of the Puritan elders. For example, Hawthorne states, “the ugliest weeds of the garden (she imagined were the elders’ children) whom Pearl smut down and uprooted most unmercifully” (Jago & Pasquantonio, 1997, p. 311). The sole connection of Pearl to a demon child shows that she is connected to sin. Overall, Pearl demonstrates the theme of sin because she is the physical result of Hester’s sin and because she acts in a manner which Puritans view as sinful. Hester
Hester, although a main character, does not initiate much action in the novel. Instead, the plot advances through her sin, adultery, which happen prior to the novel’s beginning. This is necessary for Hawthorne to effectively portray the full impact of Puritan laws and values1 (Wagenknecht, 1998, p. 56). Throughout the novel, Hester is determined to serve her punishment without complaining. She accepts her status of adulteress, but does so on her own terms. For example, Hester decorated the scarlet letter with beautiful gold embroidery. She also seems to feel the need to do penance by giving to charity and other good works (Bender, 1998, p.64). Hester’s quiet reluctance allows the readers to gain a firsthand view of the injustice and sensitivity of the Puritan community (Wagenknecht, 1998, p. 55). Hester is spared the psychological destruction of guilt because she defines her own sins and acts with amends. She does not feel her action has sinned against God, for God has never been a real presence in her life. She believes that God does not see her as a sinner because He blessed her with a beautiful child (Trodd, 2006, p. 2). By nature she is affectionate and passionate and has not violated any laws of her own beliefs. The only law, of the community, which Hester feels she has broken is the law of order. She is aware that her scandal has caused disorder in a traditional and orderly town (Gerber, 1968, p. 107). Although Hester does not feel she has sinned against the community, she does feel as if she has sinned by agreeing not to reveal Chillingworth’s identity. Her silence allows Chillingworth to seek revenge on Dimmesdale. Therefore, she has sinned against her own natural affection and idea of truth. On the other hand, Hester feels guilty that her sin might be the cause of Pearl’s unruly behavior. She feels the need to dress Pearl in bright colors, just as she feels the need to decorate the scarlet letter. In the end, Hester and Dimmesdale commit a much more serious sin...
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