As you read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” Hypocrisy is plainly evident throughout the entire book. The story begins in seventeenth-century Boston, then a Puritan settlement. The characters of Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth, and the very society that these characters lived in, serve as prime examples of this sin. It’s within these people we begin to see just how immersed in hypocrisy they are. Nathaniel Hawthorne was not at all subtle in his portrayal of the terrible sin of hypocrisy in his book. Hawthorne made sure that it was easy for readers to not only see this sin very clearly, but its effects on the society. Lessons can be drawn from the characters of The Scarlet Letter and applied to today’s society. Just because this book is set in colonial times, does not mean its lessons are not applicable to the world in which we live today.
The first and most prominent character throughout the book that we will examine is Hester Prynne. Hester Prynne is essentially the essence of the book, the source of conflict, and arguably the guiltiest of them all. She is guilty of both adultery and of hypocrisy. First, she insists that she loves Arthur Dimmesdale who is the father of her child and obviously the man which she had the affair with. Despite her words she will say nothing while for seven years Dimmesdale is slowly tortured. This love she felt that was so strong, that it made her destroy the sacred vows to her husband, must have disappeared. Why else would she condemn her supposed love to the hands of her vengeful husband? Dimmesdale is continually tortured by his inner demons of guilt that tear away at his soul, and Chillingworth makes sure these demons never go away. Hester allows this to happen. Physically and more importantly mentally, the minister begins to weaken, slowly he becomes weakened, and he punishes himself constantly. Only when Hester realizes that if Chillingworth is allowed to continue, Dimmesdale will most likely go insane if she does not reveal her secret. Why did Hester wait so long when opportunities to reveal their sin arose? For example, she did not reveal who her lover was on the scaffolding when she had the perfect opportunity to. Also, she did not tell her husband who her lover was. Why did Hester Prynne keep secrets that ended up hurting everyone else involved in this sin? Hester can atone for her sin of adultery, but every day that she keeps the secret of her lover, and the true identity of Roger Chillingworth a secret, she is committing a sin, a sin of hypocrisy. If Hester would have “Take heed how thou deniest to him---who, perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself---the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips!”(Hawthorne 1369) things would have been infinitely better for everyone. Everyone Hester Prynne loves, she does in a hypocritical way. She loves Pearl enough to sacrifice, feed, and clothe her, but she does not love Pearl enough to give her a father or a normal childhood. Hester supposedly loves Dimmesdale, but she does not love him enough to expose his sin publicly, and she conceals her knowledge of Chillingworth. Either you love something completely, or you don’t. Hawthorne might have portrayed Hester in a more favorable light then the other characters, but still she should have to wear a scarlet H in addition to her scarlet A. Next in the story we have the good minister, Arthur Dimmesdale. But how good is he? Dimmesdale is the essence of hypocrisy. One could speculate that Hawthorne intended his name to have symbolic meaning. Dimmesdale, meaning dim or not very bright. Arthur might be intelligent in the areas of theology, but when it comes to hypocrisy, he is a fool. Dimmesdale says very near the beginning of the book “What can thy silence do for him, except to tempt him---yea, compel him, as it were---to add hypocrisy to sin?”(Hawthorne 1369) It would seem that he knows what will happen to him if he endures his sin in...
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