Guilty Parties in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter Essay

Guilty Parties in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter

            The Scarlet Letter is a story about Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale’s struggle to be free from their guilt - Guilty Parties in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter Essay introduction. Hester is a married woman but she had an affair with Dimmesdale that produced a child named Pearl. Hester is condemned to wear the letter “A” and her chest as punishment. She refuses to reveal the father of her bastard child. Dimmesdale on the other hand is consumed by his guilt and it eats him. Roger Chilingworth, the husband of Hester, plays the role of antagonist as he plans revenge against the adulterers. Dimmesdale is able to confess his sin but he waited too long, the guilt that he was carrying consumed him and caused him his life. Chilingworth dies soon after and Hester and Pearl is able to live a happy life.

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Guilt in The Scarlet Letter

Guilt is the feeling of remorse towards an act that we have committed. It is somewhat synonymous to the word conscience. It is an emotion that tells us that we have done something wrong and we need to do something about it. That something is to repent of course, to free ourselves from guilt is a liberating feeling. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the two major characters experience guilt differently. Hester Prynne, wears his guilt, (literally) he is condemned to wear the mark of a letter “A” on her chest as punishment for being an adulteress (hence the letter “A”). Though this maybe humiliating for her at first, it ultimately liberates her from the very reason why she is wearing it. Unlike Hester, Arthur Dimmesdale conceals his guilt and this caused him to suffer physically and emotionally. The story shows how different attitudes towards guilt can bring different outcomes.

Hester Prynne’s Guilt

            Hyster Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale are guilty of adultery. Hyster is married to Roger Chilingworth but she had an affair with Dimmesdale because Chilingworth was unable to follow her to America right away. This affair produced a daughter named Pearl. Such affairs were unacceptable, especially during the Puritan age. Hester was imprisoned for a while and is sentenced to wear her shame literally by wearing the scarlet letter A on her bosom, a constant reminder to the townspeople that Hester is an adulteress, and to Hester, her own guilt.

            Hester is guilty, there is no doubt about that. What is worth mentioning about Hester’s guilt is how she handles it. She is humiliated publicly on a scaffold just outside the prison where she is detained. “The unhappy culprit sustained herself as best a women might, under the heave weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes, all fastened upon her, and concentrating on her bosom, It was almost intolerable to be borne” (Hawthorne, Chapter II). She is not denying what she has done, she has no alibi, her husband is not around and yet she got pregnant. But she does not want to reveal who the father is. She does not dwell on her guilt, she even embroidered red and gold stitches on the very symbol that brands her as a sinner. In a sense, she made a fashion out of it. “And never had Hester Prynne appeared more lady-like, in the antique interpretation of the term, than as she issued from the prison.” (Hawthorne, Chapter II). Instead of feeling down all the time, she made herself busy by helping others, and over time, the meaning of the letter A on her chest changed, able and amiable are likely candidates, but one thing is for sure people no longer thinks of her sin when they see her mark. Unlike Demmisdale who let himself die of guilt. Hester did not exactly confess her guilt, it was just made public and it helped in easing the pain because she has nothing to hide, again unlike Demmisdale who carries his guilt by himself.

Demmisdale’s Guilt

            Arthur Demmisdale suffers the most from guilt in the story. He can’t speak of his sin because he is a minister, a recognized figure in town, and Hester will not reveal him to the public. His guilt consumes him and causes him to be weaker by the day. “He longed to speak out from his own pulpit, at the full height of his voice, and tell the people that he was. ‘I your pastor, whom you so reverence and trust, am utterly a pollution and a lie’” (Hawthorne, Chapter XI). Hester has a scarlet letter that reveals his guilt the reverent arguably has one to but he conceals it until the end of the novel. This incapacity to reveal his sins is the main reason for Arthur Demmisdale’s demise. But maybe much worse than death is the suffering that Demmisdale experienced while carrying his guilt, if anything, his death is his only way to free himself. He punishes himself physically, he whips himself and goes on “vigils” that included staying up all night thinking about his guilt. “He kept vigils, likewise, night after night, sometimes in utter darkness; sometimes with a glimmering lamp; and sometimes, viewing his own face in a looking-glass, by the most powerful light which he could throw upon it. He thus typified the constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not purify, himself” (Hawthorne, Chapter XI). If anything positive came to be to Demmisdale’s guilt, it is his sermons became more powerful because he is able to relate to them. “He knew that it was himself, the thin and white-cheeked minister, who had done and suffered these things, and written thus far into the Election Sermon!” (Hawthorne, Chapter XX).

Conclusion

            Guilt is both a wonderful and terrible thing, as shown by the characters of Hester and Demmisdale. Hester viewed her guilt differently than Demmisdale and it caused her freedom. She moved on and changed her image by helping others. Demmisdale on the other hand protected his name at first, but it was too late when he finally confessed. The guilt inside of him eventually consumed him and caused his death.

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter.  Massachusetts. Ticknor, Reed, and Fields. 1850

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