The Scarlet Letter Essay Example
In The Scarlet Letter, both Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale faced many trials and tribulations as a result of their shared sin. Both characters faced his or her sin in a different manner. For example, Hester received a punishment while Dimmesdale remained secretive about the adultery. However, Hester and her child, Pearl, were freer than the reverend, even though the town shunned them. Their freedom was greater because Hester’s sin was well known, Dimmesdale had to deal with his guilt for the rest of his life, and his guilt was by far a greater burden upon him.
In the town, everyone knew of what Hester had done. Her wrong-doing was displayed outwardly, and she had no secret to keep about it. “Behold Hester Prynne. She wears her shame on her breast. The scarlet letter. A for adultery” (Hawthorne). The previous quote revealed that Hester and her sin were common information among the townspeople. This provided her with an aspect of liberty that Reverend Dimmesdale did not enjoy. He bore the burden of a secret while Hester’s guilt and shame were public, leaving her nothing to hide. So, though Hester did face punishment, she did not face a guilty conscious filled with secrets. This allowed her and Pearl more freedom than Arthur.
Dimmesdale’s guilt was something he would carry for the rest of his life. While Hester was allowed to do charity work and try to outwardly fix her mistake, nothing Dimmesdale did could help him to feel better. The weight of his sin on his soul was tremendous. It was so much so that he felt the need to punish himself, which is something Hester did not feel she had to do. Dimmesdale remained a slave to his guilty conscious for the duration of the story, while Hester grew stronger and more accepting by the minute. In the literary work, Hester asked Arthur if he had found peace. His response proved him to be a restless soul. “None. Nothing but despair! What else could I look for, being what I am and leading this life of mine? Were I a man devoid of conscience, I might have found peace long before now. Nay, I never should have lost it. But whatever goodness there was within me, all of it is now used to torment me. Hester, I am most miserable” (Hawthorne). Peace and freedom were not things that frequented Dimmesdale’s life any longer. He did not confess his sin, leaving him with an intense guilty conscious as a reverend.
The Feeling of Guilt
Hester’s guilt about her sin was far less than that of Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. She eventually accepted what she had done and slowly moved on with her life. She enjoyed doing charity work and being a seamstress. She was free to do these things at her leisure. Free to enjoy her life. Free to think about anything, rather than just adultery. Unfortunately, Dimmesdale did not possess such freedoms. The guilt of his sin ate away at him for years and years, intensified by his status within the community. Because Dimmesdale was a preacher, he felt that he would be punished much worse than Hester had been. He was afraid of not being able to continue in his ministry, for he was supposed to be the most ‘perfect’ man in town. For him to have taken part in such a sin caused an unbearable pressure on Dimmesdale. “As a minister, I should not fear. I should be blameless and pure. A perfect leader for my congregation……. It is easier to accept the sin of a man who toils at the law or medicine. They study to improve themselves, and occasionally allow themselves to slip…. And it is forgivable….. But we can accept him. But the preacher, the preacher who does but the slightest wrong, we cannot see it. We cannot love him. For his only job is to avoid sin…. The best and most beautiful of sermons falls on deaf ears if the speaker is not truly holy” (Hawthorne). For that reason among others, Dimmesdale was less free than Hester and Pearl.
In The Scarlet Letter, it seemed like everyone had something to feel guilty about, something enslaving them. Of all the characters, however, Dimmesdale felt most guilty. Hester was shameful, but she was free to move on with her life. She and her daughter were freer than Dimmesdale within the town because he bore a greater burden. He withheld his sin as a secret while Hester accepted her sin freely as she raised Pearl alone. Dimmesdale was enslaved by his secret until the last moments of his earthly life. Even in his own eyes, freedom was something he no longer had.