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Interpreting The Theme Of Sin In The Scarlett Letter By Nathaniel Hawthorne

In The Scarlet Letter, there are many scenes that are important to the plot and help reveal the story’s theme of sin and its consequences. The story is presented differently than most novels, however, Hawthorne presents the story as an omniscient feeling towards all characters, rather than a chronological explanation in order to show a unity of mood. Therefore, many of these important scenes do not focus on one character, but relate the actions of the four major characters together.

There are five important scenes in the book that display the story’s important message: the interrogation at the prison, the governor’s decision for Hester’s custody, the midnight meeting on the scaffold, Hester and Dimmesdale’s rendezvous in the forest, and Dimmesdale’s events on Election Day. In chapter four of The Scarlet Letter, the newly local physician, Roger Chillingworth, visits the prison because of Pearl’s convulsions and Hester’s degenerating health. Chillingworth provides medicine, but Hester is suspicious that her medicine is actually poison because of her acts against her husband.

The two begin to converse again, revealing that Chillingworth apologizes to Hester for expecting her to love an older man. Towards the end of the conversation, Chillingworth decides to exact revenge on Hester’s partner, however, “Chillingworth extracts one promise from Hester: that just as she has kept the lover’s identity a secret, so she must keep the husband’s” (Cowley, 14). The scene is important because it shows the first private conversation between Hester and Chillingworth after they have been separated couple of years, resulting in Hester taking her action that gave her the scarlet letter.

The scene also reveals Chillingworth’s motives for the rest of the book and Hester’s struggle to reveal Chillingworth’s secret in the later chapters. Once Pearl has grown up to be a small child, there is another important scene in The Scarlet Letter that displays foreshadowing to actions that take place later in the novel. Within chapter seven and eight, the townspeople want Hester to lose custody of Pearl, whether it benefits Hester or Pearl’s religious purity.

Consequently, Hester goes to the house of Governor Bellingham to request to keep custody. While there, Reverend Wilson and Dimmesdale, as well as Bellingham and Chillingworth hold “an informal trial of her case” (Cowley, 14). To prove Hester’s responsibility as a parent in a religious society, Reverend Wilson asks Pearl about who her creator is. In response “the child finally announced that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison-door” (Hawthorne, 123).

As a result, the group of men decide that Hester is unfit to look after Pearl, even though Hester decides she would rather die than lose custody. Towards the end of the scene, Dimmesdale speaks on Hester’s behalf stating “God gave her the child, and gave her, too, an instinctive knowledge of its nature and requirements… is there not a quality of awful sacredness in the relation between this mother and this child? ” (Hawthorne, 125). At the end of the scene, Pearl and Dimmesdale have a gentle reaction with a kiss on her brow.

In the middle section of the novel, in chapter twelve or Act III, the scene shows Dimmesdale’s situation with his personal sins, mainly due to Chillingworth’s constant torture on him. In the middle of the night, Dimmesdale dresses and goes outside, while experiencing pain and gripping his chest. He eventually makes his way up the scaffold where Hester originally stood around seven years ago. Dimmesdale lets out a screech, but is heard by no one, and only Bellingham and Mistress Hibbins look out their windows into the fog.

Eventually, Reverend Wilson walks by the scaffold after finishing at Governor Winthrop’s deathbed, but does not see Dimmesdale. Hester and Pearl also leave Governor Winthrop’s deathbed, and join Dimmesdale up on the scaffold. “Holding one another’s hands on the scaffold, they form what Hawthorne calls “an electric chain” (Cowley, 15) which creates a newly found energy in Dimmesdale. After they have all joined hands, Pearl asks of Dimmesdale “Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, tomorrow noontide? ” (Hawthorne, 168). Dimmesdale denies her, which she immediately withdraws her hand.

In the night sky, a bright red meteor soars above the town, which pulls people out of their houses to look upon a red A in the night sky that was created by the meteor. The townspeople interpret the signal as a sign for the death of Governor Winthrop and becoming an angel, but Dimmesdale interprets the A as the guilt and sin he has experienced in privacy. The scene is important because is represents and shows how Dimmesdale is not as strong as Hester to publicly announce her sin and feels a large amount of guilt because of his actions.

Also, Pearl has connected with Dimmesdale another time, but is rejected by him because of his unwillingness to accept sin. In the fourth scene, there are four chapters (16-19) that take place in the forest outside of the town. Hester goes into the forest with a “moral wilderness” (Hawthorne, 202) to meet Dimmesdale and warn him about Chillingworth. When she meets Dimmesdale, he is feeble and weak, which shows the effects of his undisclosed sin. The two begin to talk about finding their personal peace, with that, he gives his reply: “Of penance, I have had enough!

Of penitence, there has been none! ” The conversation shows that Dimmesdale has become almost completely destroyed and devastated by his sins. Once Hester reveals her news about Chillingworth, Dimmesdale cannot forgive her, but she is also his strength in chapter eighteen. The two characters eventually decide to move away from the New World together and begin their own life with Pearl and the setting positively changes: the forest allows sunlight in, Hester removes her Scarlet Letter and bonnet, allowing her hair to fall on her shoulders.

Hester and Dimmesdale begin to talk about Dimmesdale become a father and how great it will be to teach Pearl. However, when Dimmesdale and Hester arrive at the brook, Pearl screams and “sulks until she pins the letter on her breast again” (Cowley, 16) because she is unfamiliar with Hester not wearing the letter. The scene shows the commitment Hester and Dimmesdale have made after dealing with years of sins and guilt. Also, this shows how Pearl is still Hester’s punishment by restraining her moments of freedom to live with Dimmesdale and have penitence.

The final important scene of the book takes place in chapters twenty-one through twenty-three, which takes place on Election Day for the town. Hester and Pearl gather with the diversified guests and townspeople to watch the procession of magistrates, bands, and reverends for the election sermons. During the scene, Hester finds out that Chillingworth will follow them back to the Old World on the nearby Spanish ship, and feels alone when Dimmesdale does not acknowledge her during the procession.

While Dimmesdale is giving his sermon in the church, Hester stands outside near the scaffold, despite being Dimmesdale’s strength. Hester is also met by Mistress Hibbins who foreshadows that the Black Man’s mark shall be revealed. The procession eventually retreats back outside, however, Dimmesdale is driven to “totter up the steps of the scaffold after calling on Hester to support him” (Cowley, 16) to reveal his sins. Chillingworth tries desperately to prevent Dimmesdale from announcing on the scaffold, but Dimmesdale defeats him by stating that he no longer needs Chillingworth’s medicines.

Eventually, Dimmesdale publicly shows his “carved” scarlet letter on his bare chest and falls into Hester’s lap. Dimmesdale gives his last statements and goodbyes to the other three main characters. Dimmesdale gives a significant goodbye to Pearl asking “dear little Pearl, wilt thou kiss me now? Thou wouldst not, yonder in the forest! But now thou wilt? ” (Hawthorne, 282). Pearl gives Dimmesdale a kiss, resulting for the “spell” to be broken, allowing for Pearl to grow up normally among sorrow and joy. As Dimmesdale says his last goodbye, he gives his last breath and dies on the scaffold.

The scene allows for a resolution to be created for Hester and Pearl, whiling defeating Chillingworth’s fiend-like behaviors. The five scenes are important to show the morality of many human complications and sins, while showing Hawthorne’s different sense of presenting scenes. The scenes allow for the readers to understand the motives and the reactions played out by all four main characters. In conclusion, the five scenes help present Hawthorne’s idea of sins and its consequences towards different people.

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