In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote an intriguing story set in Boston during the time of the Puritans. The story revolves around the character of Hestor Prynne, who gives birth to a daughter, Pearl, out-of-wedlock. She is married, but living separately from her husband and is therefore found guilty of adultery. As punishment, she endured imprisonment, she wears a scarlet A in public and must endure public shame for three hours a day. Despite this cruel fate, she faces her life with courage and grace. She also refuses to name her accomplice in her crime. Through the difficult journey of Hester Prynne and her lover, the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale, Hawthorne sheds light upon the human condition and its struggles with sin and suffering.
One important characteristic of humans is the flaws within the person. Humans often fail in their moral obligations and succumb to temptations. Hester and Arthur surrender to their love and lust for each other, despite her marriage vows and his religious vows. Their union results in her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. The town questions her repeatedly regarding the name of her lover, but she does not reveal his identity. In Chapter 3, she is told “If thou feelest it to be for thy soul’s peace, and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer!” This statement indicates that sin is a form of suffering. While their love may have seemed pleasurable at some points to them, it creates a tremendous suffering for many involved. This is an important concept within the story. Sin leads to human suffering.
Hawthorne further explores the human condition of sin by revealing that lover is Dimmesdale, the minister of the church. Through this revelation, Hawthorne forces the reader to realize that all humans have flaws and failings, despite any positions they hold in society. Essentially, the potential to commit sin resides with every human due to temptations. Humans must repress this potential, otherwise they and their loved ones will endure suffering as a result of sin.
Nathaniel Hawthorne explores the nature of evil and good in the story. Despite the sins of Hester and Dimmesdale, they repent through a life of good works and actions. While Hester endures public punishment for her act, she faces her difficulties with grace and does not run away. She rather becomes stronger and dignified in her period of punishment and earns the respect of many by her dignity in the face of humiliation. In Chapter 13, Hawthorne explains “Many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength.” Hester’s burden actually strengthened her as a woman and as a person.
On the other hand, Dimmesdale faces his suffering alone and he pierces the scarlet A on his chest. Dimmesdale does endure the suffering other suggested he would. He is not as strong as Hester to reveal his sin in public but he suffers deep down and falls ill. He finally reveals his act in public and dies. Their characters display the good side of human nature as they repent for their sinful act. As a religious man, Dimmesdale understands that they cannot run away from their sins, both in this world and the next. He explains this by saying, “I fear! I fear! It may be, that, when we forgot our God,–when we violated our reverence each for the other’s soul,–it was vain to hope that we could meet hereafter, in an everlasting and pure reunion.” These lines display his deep regrets for his sins.
Roger Chillingworth represents the evil side of human nature. As Hester’s husband, he deserted her years ago. He returns as she is being punished for her act of adultery. Chillingworth may be considered responsible for Hester’s lot in life. Her loneliness may have driven her to adultery. Despite her sins, she emerges from the affair with grace. However, Chillingworth seeks revenge. Dimmesdale explains Chillingworth’s evilness by stating “That old man’s revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart”. Chillingworth does not let Hester live in peace and spies on Dimmesdale as well. His desire for revenge knows no boundaries.
Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter provides a depiction of the many sides of human nature. It throws light upon the aspects of sin, evil and goodness. A human being cannot be perfect and sinful acts are a part of the existence of human life. Hester accepts her sin and completes her period of punishment. She achieves respectability again through the dignity with which she faced her difficulty. Thus, Hawthorne has tried to explain that a person should accept his wrong acts and learn from them. This is the nature of being human.
- Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Champaign, Ill: Project Gutenberg, 1990. Print.