The Transcendentalist Ideas of Hypocrisy

Topics: The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne, Nathaniel Hawthorne Pages: 5 (2091 words) Published: February 22, 2007
American Transcendentalism began as a protest against the general state of culture and society during the 1700s, and in particular, the state of intellectualism. Among the core beliefs of American Transcendentalists was an ideal spiritual state that 'transcends' the physical and empirical and is only realized through the individual's intuition, rather than through the doctrines of established religions. Transcendentalism is also largely about exposing the hypocrisy in our society. Transcendentalism is questioning societal norms, and it exposes these hypocrisies through its desire to spread broader ideas about, religion, education, literature, and philosophy. Transcendentalism is also largely about love and romanticism. Both hypocrisy and the concept of true love are heavily present in Hawthorne's novel. In The Scarlet Letter hypocrisy is evident everywhere. The characters of Hester, Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, and the very society that the characters lived in, were steeped in hypocrisy. Hawthorne was not subtle in his portrayal of the terrible sin of hypocrisy; he made sure it was easy to see the sin at work, just as it is easy to see many of the sins at work in society. There are many parallels that can be drawn between the characters of The Scarlet Letter and those of today's society. Just because this book is set in colonial times, does not mean its lessons are not applicable to the world we live in. The first character, Hester Prynne, is guilty of adultery as well as hypocrisy. She "loves" Dimmesdale yet she says nothing and for seven years Dimmesdale is slowly tortured. This love she felt that was so strong, it caused her break sacred vows. 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 gnaw at his soul, and Chillingworth makes sure these demons never go away. Hester allows this to happen. Physically and mentally the minister begins to weaken and he punishes himself constantly. Only when Hester knows that if Chillingworth is allowed to continue, that Dimmesdale will surely go insane if she does not reveal her secret. Hester waited so long because she had not revealed 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 not only herself, but everyone? Hester can make up for her sin of adultery, but every day that she keeps the secret of her lover, and the true identity of Rodger Chillingworth a secret she is continuing to commit a sin. 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!"(Dimmesdale 47) things would have been infinitely better for everyone. Everyone Hester Prynne loves, she does so in a hypocritical way. She loves Pearl enough to sacrifice to feed and clothe her, but she does not love Pearl enough to give her a father. Hester loves Dimmesdale, but she does not love him enough to expose his sin publicly, and she conceals her knowledge of Chillingworth. You either love something whole-heartedly, or you don't truly love it at all. 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 A. The second character, Arthur Dimmesdale is the epitome of hypocrisy. Hawthorne intended his name to have symbolic meaning, Dimmesdale, which implies the meaning of being dim or not very bright. Arthur might be bright in the areas of theology, but when it comes to avoiding 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?"(Dimmesdale 47) He knows what the outcome will be for him if he endures his sin in private,...

Cited: Battan, Jesse F. "You Cannot Fix The Scarlet Letter on my Breast!: Women Ready,
Writing, and Reshaping The Sexual Culture of Victorian America." Journal of
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Budick, Emily Miller. "Hawthorne, Pearl, and the Primal Sin of Culture." Journal of
American Studies: August 2005, Vol. 39 Issue 2, p167-185
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. 2002
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