The Theme Of Public Guilt In The Scarlet Letter, By Nathaniel Hawthorne

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With the inner struggle of guilt, a person can either be redeemed or destroyed. In The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne Hester Prynne is ridiculed publicly by the Puritan community for adultery. Mr. Dimmesdale, the man Hester cheats with is a young minister in the town, and hides his sin from the community. Together the two have a daughter named Pearl, that Hester raises. Pearl is a constant reminder of their sin, in which Hester holds onto public guilt, and Dimmesdale onto private guilt. Both Hester and Dimmesdale are destroyed by their guilty consciences, but Hester can redeem herself in the town. Dimmesdale continues to be brought down by sin. In the novel The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses the theme of guilt to ultimately show that …show more content…
Hawthorne wants the reader to distinguish the differences in private and public guilt. Hawthorne shows that Hester being under public guilt is redeemed into the Puritan community again, but Dimmesdale suffers from the stress of private guilt. Hester being free from hiding her sin, she thinks about her affect on others rather than herself. Hester sees the harassment Chillingworth is afflicting on Dimmesdale, and is “Now fully sensible of the deep injury for which she was responsible to this unhappy man, in permitting him to lie for so many years,” (183). Hester knows that she will suffer mentally if she does not tell Dimmesdale the truth of Chillingworth’s motives. Making Hester’s guilt public, she can forgive herself for the wrong she has done. Multiple times Hester’s guilt being public helps her to be forgiven and seen as part of the community. Wearing the scarlet letter as punishment, Hester’s sin is public for anyone to see, after some time, the Puritan people “Refused to interpret the scarlet “A” by its original significance. They said it meant “Able”” (152). By wearing the scarlet letter and committing to her punishment for her sin, the community respects her for doing so, and allows her to be redeemed. Hester having her guilt public lets her be forgiven for her sin and freed from carrying the pressure of keeping the sin secret. Dimmesdale, on the contrary, suffers tremendously from private guilt. He lives in constant fear that his sin will be revealed. Throughout the novel, Dimmesdale gets mentally and physically destroyed my his private guilt. During the procession in front of the entire Puritan community, Dimmesdale decides to confess to the sin of adultery, and that ““there stood one in the midst of [the community], at whose brand of sin infamy [the Puritans] have no shuddered!”” (241). The stress of private guilt builds up in Dimmesdale,

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