Essay On The Morally Ambiguous Characters In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a tale rife with morally ambiguous characters. While each with their own faults and merits, Hester is generally portrayed in a better light than Chillingworth is by the narrator. Arthur Dimmesdale’s position on the morality scale, however, is much more disputed. He is truly an ambiguous character for acting both in ways people perceive as good and evil before and after Hester is convicted. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses the conflicting viewpoints of how people sees Dimmesdale precisely to demonstrate that the opinions that count most are the ones held by the individual, proving that public punishments are not as effective. Initially, to the townspeople, Dimmesdale is the embodiment of the …show more content…
Though he has not faced the wrath of the townspeople, he has faced his own wrath by beating himself so much as to render “him in his closet, wielding the bloody scourge” (99). Besides physically punishing himself, he psychologically punishes himself by continuing to live with Chillingworth, a physician who has made his life hell, despite being suspicious of the man early on. Consequently, Dimmesdale repents on his own volition in a way that causes him more pain than Hester’s punishment was to her. When asked whether she suffers less due to outwardly displaying her shame in the form of the scarlet letter, he replies that he “do[es] verily believe it” (87). Hester’s own guilt is quelled because she has learned to be truthful and open about her faults to both herself and others. On the other hand, Dimmesdale is never punished by the townspeople because what they do is not the course of action for him. He is so morally ambiguous as to demonstrate that there is no one way to repent since what he has done before and after the crime cannot lend clearly external consequences besides in a way unique to him. Ultimately, the pain he inflicts upon himself and his reveal of the truth at the end is enough to free himself from his …show more content…
The same could be said of repenting one’s sins. In general, people do not qualify as completely good or evil. Rather, they are morally ambiguous. One book that is known for these types of realistic characters is The Scarlet Letter. In the story, Arthur Dimmesdale, a respected reverend, commits adultery. While that is something that is seen as dishonorable and his character traits do suggest that he is a coward, he does the best he can to make up for his actions. In fact, not even the omniscient narrator knows what to make of him. Unlike the narrator, however, the townspeople are quick to judge despite them knowing only one aspect of the pastor: what he is like in church. They paint him as a wonderful man while not knowing of his inner sins. Because they know so little, they should not try to condemn people like him to a life of eternal solitude. However, if there is one thing they do, it is to increase Dimmesdale’s guilt for failing to meet expectations. This internal shame manifests itself in his own physical and psychological punishments. In the end, his own inner turmoil resolves itself through the truth so that he leaves the world in peace with his own guilt without any intervention from the

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