The Scarlet Letter is a novel about love and jealousy, sin and shame, passion and compassion. It is a tale of a woman named Hester Prynne, who engaged in adultery with the town minister, and as a result, bore permanent consequences from this sin throughout the remainder of their lives. While Minister Dimmesdale denied this sin and expressed his regret through shows of self-abuse and crippling guilt, Hester embraced her sins as past experience and learned from them in order to find her own identity. While the entire novel is rich with allegory and imagery, the conclusion to be drawn is this: Free will is God’s indispensable gift to humanity, and we must allow ourselves to be open to salvation in light of the choices we make. This theme is
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As for Dimmesdale, the “burden” of his sin gives him “sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind, so that his heart vibrates in unison with theirs.” His most articulate, powerful sermons were derived from the sense of empathy gained from experience. Hester and Dimmesdale contemplate their own sinfulness constantly, and try to repent it with the way they live their lives afterward. The Puritan elders, on the other hand, insist on seeing sinful experiences as a mere obstacle on the path to heaven. Hence, they view life on earth as insignificant, and sin as a threat to the community that should be severely punished and suppressed. While they punish Hester and Dimmesdale, their Puritan society is stagnant, while Hester and Dimmesdale's experience shows that imperfection and life experience are not evil. They are necessary to personal growth and true, deep understanding of others.
Hester realizes and expresses that sin is forgivable, and at times necessary, to achieve a true personal identity in earthly life. After Hester is publicly shamed and forced by her society to wear the scarlet letter as a badge of humiliation, she is unwilling to pick up and leave the town. Although she is free to leave the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and doing so would allow her to remove the scarlet letter and live a life of quiet obscurity, she is unwilling to flee her “burden”. Hester even reacts with disappointment when Chillingworth tells her