Scarlet Letter - Part 20
Power of Sin
In The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne presents three main characters that commit evil and sinful acts, where each act is at a different degree of sinfulness - Scarlet Letter introduction. These three sinners (in the eyes of the Puritan community) are: the beautiful Hester Prynne, the esteemed Reverend Dimmesdale, and the cold-hearted doctor Roger Chillingworth. Hawthorn believes that evil is the nature of man but that there are different magnitudes of evil- some choose to fight it, like Hester, and some choose to give in, like Chillingworth.
Hester Prynn, a strong willed and brave women, in respect to the two additional people, has committed the least amount of sin in the novel. However, in the eyes of the Puritan community, she has committed one of the worst possible sins that can be imagined: adultery. Though, in their eyes, she is horrendously corrupt, it is not her fault in fact; Hester is the victim of her husband, Roger Chillingworths stupidity by sending her to New England by herself, while he remained in Europe. She is also a victim of fate- when Chillingworth is captured by the Indians when he arrives in North America, Hester has no way of knowing if he is alive or dead. But in fact, she still goes against the strict Puritan rules, and breaks commandment seven, which was often punished by death.
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Arthur Dimmesdale, a strong pillar of the community, and a very devoted Puritan, goes a little further into the same sin. First of all, he commits adultery with the abandoned Hester, and instead of admitting his sin to the public, he keeps his dark secret in his heart, much like an unwanted reminder of the past that someone of this nature would lock up but would know its still there. The only thing worse in the Puritans eyes than committing a terrible sin, is keeping the sin from being admitted. They believed it darkened the soul. In fact, it almost turned Dimmesdale into an evil shell of a man. The Puritans also wanted the sinning people of the congregation to admit their sin, so that they could punish that person, almost as if they were playing God. Dimmesdale did get punished, but it was in private. First, he punishes himself by whipping himself, and then he allows Chillingworth to torment him with comments that make him feel he is a man of God, but cannot bring up the strength to admit openly that he has had an affair with Hester. His weakness is the reason he is more evil than Hester. Dimmesdale does not want to admit that he sinned against God, whom he is usually such a great servant. Dimmesdale strives to be perfect, but because of the sinful act of passion that he has committed, his record for God has been destroyed forever. However, after seven long years of struggle, Dimmesdale triumphs over his weakness, at the day he predicted he would die- judgment day.
Finally, the deformed scholar, whose intellect gives him the title of the most evil and sinful person in the book, Roger Chillingworth. He was captured by the Indians and stayed with them for a year. When he returns to civilization he sees his wife standing on the town scaffold telling him to pretend he does not know her. By mid-way through the novel, the audiences view of the character changes dramatically. The major turning point is when we find out to what extent Chillingworth will go through to find personal information about his patient, Dimmesdale. Chillingworth really commits two major sins; his first sin is against Hester. He committed it when he married her and took away her youth. Second, and far more evil sin, is that of tricking the heart and using a friendship to sacrifice a fellow man to gratify his own selfishness. What Chillingworth does is befriend the good Reverend and become his doctor. Chillingworth notices that something more than physical is wrong with him and he starts to dig deeper and deeper until he finds what he is looking for, but not without destroying Dimmesdales life. Finally, he becomes aware of what has happened but it is too late to change who he is and who he has become.
The death of Dimmesdale is the ultimate penalty. It is used to compensate for his falsification and the wrong things he did and the secrets that he hide. The author however allows death to be an end with grace. The character is allowed to die in peace because of the repentance he went through. The same applies to Chillingworth. He had secretly lived his life in hate; he too began to show his rotten inner self on the outside. Never having revealed his true identity to everyone, he died without solace and alone.