In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the five main characters were faced with the immense challenge of forgiving the people who had committed wrongs against them. Whether those indiscretions be the sin of adultery or the act of revenge, each were equally as hard to forgive. Hester’s challenge was to forgive the townspeople. Reverend Dimmesdale needed to forgive Chillingworth. Chillingworth had to forgive Hester and Dimmesdale. Pearl had to forgive Dimmesdale. Governor Bellingham had to forgive Hester. Not all of the characters could forgive the ones who wronged them.
Each character took a different path when facing the burden of forgiveness. Hester was the most forgiving throughout the entire book. She was able to forgive the whole village after they acted so callous towards her, even though she did nothing against them. She forgave the people of the village due to her strength and resolve. When they tormented her by starting sermons or talking behind her back, she kept walking, remaining focused on her tasks.. “Hester bestowed all her superfluous means in charity, on wretches less miserable than herself, and who not unfrequently insulted the hand that fed them” (Hawthorne,3).
This quote from the book shows that she would give money to those happier than her, and that the ones she would give to did not appreciate it. “Even in her final phase living a virtually saintly life, Hester” (Wagenknecht 72). When Hester returned from England, after Pearl was all settled and grown, she still helped the town. She became a counselor for the young women of the town, since she was experienced in relationships, up until the day that she died. Hester was still treated as the woman with the Scarlet A, even though she devoted her life to helping the own.
Hester forgiving the village resulted in their eventual acceptance of her, however their acceptance was not complete. They referred to her as their Hester and the A was not viewed as a symbol of adultery any longer. Instead they started to view the A as a symbol meaning able and willing to help. Reverend Dimmesdale’s challenge was to forgive Roger Chillingworth for enacting his revenge against Dimmesdale. Chillingworth tormented Dimmesdale everyday since the moment he found out that Arthur was the one who had an affair with Hester, and fathered Pearl.
Chillingworth was able to torment Dimmesdale without him knowing about it. Due to the fact that Chillingworth “violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of the human heart” (Hawthorne, 215). Dimmesdale himself was never able to forgive Chillingworth for his transgressions, however he did ask God to forgive him. The result of Dimmesdale being unable to forgive Chillingworth was that Chillingworth died. Chillingworth had to forgive two different people, Hester and Dimmesdale, both of them for committing adultery. Hester, he was able to forgive the first time that they met in the town.
In the book Chillingworth says, “Hester,said he… I might have beheld that bale-fire of that Scarlet Letter blazing at the end of our path” (Hawthorne 83). Chillingworth understood that he should not of put her in a position to fall in love with him when he was so old and she was so young. Chillingworth was not able to forgive Dimmesdale for his transgression. He did not want to forgive Dimmesdale, he wanted to make the Reverend suffer for what he had done to him. He did in fact make Dimmesdale suffer, Chillingworth would often remind Dimmesdale of his sin so that he could never forget.
The result of Chillingworth forgiving Hester was that he was able to give all his focus on exacting his revenge on Dimmesdale. The result of Chillingworth not being able to forgive Dimmesdale was that once Dimmesdale died Chillingworth had nothing to live for, so he died shortly thereafter. Pearl had to forgive Reverend Dimmesdale for not claiming his sin and standing with Pearl and Hester up on the scaffold. Throughout the book Dimmesdale struggled with his sin and claiming it as his own. This made Pearl upset because she did not understand why he could not claim her and accept it.
She had always been strong willed because of her position and her mother, so she did not understand why some people were not as confident. Pearl forgave the Reverend in the end when he stood on top of the scaffold with her and Hester, finally confessing to the adultery. The end result of Pearl forgiving Dimmesdale was that he could die in peace. “She had at last succeeded in her search for a father” (Wagenknecht 70). Pearl’s acceptance allowed her to see him as a father Governor Richard Bellingham was the last main character to consider forgiveness. He had to forgive Hester for the sin, and the crime, that she had committed.
The Governor was the symbol of Law and Order in the town so he set the example for everyone. Had he forgiven Hester then the townspeople would have been more willing to forgive her as well. However he did not feel as though Hester deserved forgiveness. The law was clear and she violated it, so he could not forgive. There were points throughout the story when he contemplated forgiveness, because of the way she acted and represented herself. The end result of Governor Bellingham not forgiving Hester was that she spent the rest of her life as a criminal who had to walk around branded with the Scarlet A.
In conclusion, throughout The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne each of the five main characters had the challenge of forgiving someone. Hester had to forgive the townspeople. Reverend Dimmesdale had to forgive Chillingworth. Chillingworth had to forgive Hester and Dimmesdale. Pearl had to forgive the Reverend Dimmesdale. Governor Bellingham had to forgive Hester. The task proved equally difficult whether they had to forgive the sin of adultery or the act of vengeance. Forgiveness requires a tremendous amount of strength and courage, some are not capable of such an act.