The Pressures of Guilt
Everyone sins. It is an inescapable fact. The magnitude of guilt for these sins, however, depends upon the creed, religion, or ideals of the sinner. In both The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, and The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, readers see the effect of the Puritan faith on guilt. Strong, as well as weak, characters face guilt in each book. Abigail and Dimmesdale take a coward’s way out, while Hester and Proctor wrestle with their guilt. By upholding the strictures of Puritanism, Reverends Wilson and Paris intensify guilt and demonstrate the cruelty of their religion. The harshness of Puritan culture reveals itself through guilt.
The weight of remorse is crushing; those who cannot withstand it turn to cowardice. In The Crucible, when Abigail is faced with punishment for her sin she invents a worse crime: witchcraft. The reader immediately sees the lie, but for the characters in the play, this invention is a serious accusation. If not for the strictness of her Puritan surroundings, Abigail could not turn blame from herself so easily. Yet, she is not strong enough to accept the weight of her guilt. Dimmesdale reflects this weakness as well. In The Scarlet Letter, he attempts to pass the weight of his guilt onto Hester. During The Pastor and His Parishoner – Chapter 17 – Dimmesdale tells her, “’Be thou strong for me!’” (Hawthorne 186). This once great man cannot bear his guilt and assumes a worse fate for himself than perhaps society would grant him. Where Abigail is weak because she uses the tenets of Puritanism to force a situation that leaves her on top, Dimmesdale is weak because he need only confess his sin and the guilt will lift. The harsh faith around both characters instills them with fear. Puritan faith and culture looms over them as an omnipresent threat. They are driven by the fear of intolerable punishment which their religion holds to be their ultimate end. This fear can conquer a man such that he...
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