Due: 10/20/08 The Scarlet Letter Essay
Hester Prynne, a young woman sent to the new Puritan world by her husband, commits adultery with an English minister, which leads to the birth of their love child, Pearl Prynne. While Hester is forced to accept complete blame for lechery and survive the punishment of her society, Arthur Dimmesdale, the biological father of Pearl, keeps the secret of his sin to himself and is compelled to sustain personal burdens that wear on him internally. Pearl, the product of two people’s lack of obedience towards the community’s rules, is a constant reminder to both Hester and Dimmesdale of their wrongdoings and deviant behavior. Both Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale suffer a sense of responsibility for their actions, however, their punishments are handled in different manners, one through public humiliation, and the other through secret guilt and shame. As for public humiliation, Hester Prynne is the person who must endure all of the tortures which society inflicts on her as punishment for her confession for committing adultery. On the other hand, however, Arthur Dimmesdale continues to suffer, quietly experiencing personal burdens and pain that he must keep quiet to conceal his identity as Hester’s lover and Pearl’s father. Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale undergo very different ways of dealing with the guilt from their crime, but Pearl Prynne is one of the main causes of Hester and Dimmesdale being unable to move past their sin. Pearl, among other things, is a constant reminder to the Bostonian community of Hester’s sinful behavior, while she is also a steady symbol to Arthur Dimmesdale of the secret shame that he is hiding inside himself, while he lets Hester take the blame alone. Nathaniel Hawthorne uses character throughout the novel, The Scarlet Letter, to present a contradicting theme between public disgrace and suffering in solitude. Hester Prynne is a representation of guilt throughout the Puritan society and is shown living and enduring a life of an outcast, as she is tortured by and alienated from her community. Once Hester resorted to adultery and defied the rules by betraying her husband, she became a woman of guilt and shame. Hester did, however, confess to her sin and is thus able to experience her punishment and guilt of wrongdoing openly and through public humiliation versus the torturous emotion of keeping a secret, which is suffered by her partner in crime, who refuses to own up to his wrongdoing. Guilt in the community, a place of “people amongst whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and the severest acts of public discipline were alike made vulnerable and awful” (35), can be seen in the form of public humiliation and cultural ostracism. Hester has a committed a crime so bad that the typical penalty should be death, “but, in their [the fathers of the town] great mercy and tenderness of heart, they have doomed Mistress Prynne to stand only a space of three hours on the platform of the pillory, and then and thereafter, for the remainder of her natural life, to wear a mark of shame upon her bosom (43).” Hester is thus forced to feel much lament for her action, but she must no longer live with the secret, as to be tortured internally and suffer self-inflicted pain. Hester’s guilt can be shown in the form of public disgrace and embarrassment as she must stand on the scaffold for three hours, and spent some given amount of time in the town prison. Hester is obligated to be an outcast from the community of Boston and become a “general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point [their finger], and in which they might vivify and embody their images of women’s frailty and sinful passion. Thus the young...
Bibliography: Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Dover Publications, Inc.; New York, 1994.
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