The Scarlet Letter, a novel written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a novel that takes place in the town of Boston, Massachusetts in 1642. Hester Prynne, the main character of the story, commits the sin of adultery. Because of this sin, she is "blessed" with a child named Pearl. Her punishment is to wear a scarlet letter “A" on her chest for the rest of her life, which affects the way the townspeople look and act around her. Also, she must stand on the scaffold in the town for three hours for the whole town to recognize her grave sins. The man who should be standing upon the scaffold along with her and Pearl is the town minister, Dimmesdale. He is presented as a weak character because of his fear of losing his beloved reputation as such a holy man. The townspeople do not know who Hester’s husband is, but the reader eventually finds out that Hester’s husband is Roger Chillingworth. His quest throughout the novel is to take revenge on Dimmesdale. Many characters, including Pearl, Mistress Hibbins, Chillingworth, and Dimmesdale, are all characters who are associated with evil and the Black Man. Many of the same characters also struggle with their identity within their Puritan society. Because of the main sin of adultery, several themes emerge in the novel; the three major themes that are demonstrated in the lives of the main characters are the positive and negative effects of sin, the nature of evil, and identity issues in society.
To begin with, the main sin of adultery brings about the theme of the positive and negative effects of sin. Although, the cause of these effects comes from the same sin of adultery, each character is affected differently. Firstly, Hester becomes a stronger person because of her sin. Obviously, in this case, Hester’s sin affects her positively. The law sentences her to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her chest for the rest of her life. The initial intention of this scarlet letter is to make the townspeople almost gag every time they see her, but because of Hester’s strength, courage, and pride, she reverses these intentions and by the end of the novel, the scarlet A on her chest represents “able”. Even the town minister, Dimmesdale knows she is strong. He says, “Think for me, Hester! Thou art strong. Resolve for me!” (Hawthorne 172). Hester proves that she can still stand for what she believes in without being so rebellious. “She has managed to show—before the whole assembled population—that it is possible, even for a relatively powerless woman, to stand her ground without pushing her defiance too far” (Evans “Civil Disobedience”). Even though her society has ruined her reputation, she handles it a mature way. Differently, Dimmesdale is portrayed as a weak character. He is aware of Hester’s strength and believes her strength is what keeps him alive. From the early stages of the novel, the reader soon finds out that Dimmesdale has also committed adultery. His sin has negative effects on him and makes him physically weak and delusional from the very beginning. The author notes, “About this period, however, the health of Mr. Dimmesdale had evidently begun to fail” (Hawthorne 103). The townspeople see these physical changes in Dimmesdale’s character but they believe it is a result from Dimmesdale’s long hours working on his sermons. They do not know however that, “In Mr. Dimmesdale’s secret closet, under lock and key, there was a bloody scourge” (Hawthorne 125). The townspeople are completely oblivious to the suffering Dimmesdale is putting on himself. Furthermore, Pearl, Hester’s daughter, is also affected by Hester’s sin in negative ways, considering she is shunned among her peers. “Pearl was a born outcast of the infantile world” (Hawthorne 79). When the children in town are playing after church or school, Pearl is the one to just watch them while holding her mother’s hand. The children know that there is something different about Pearl from their parents, so they choose to stay away. Lastly, Chillingworth...
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