A Literary Analysis of the Hypocrisy in The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne describes the struggles of a young woman, Hester Prynne, a women found
guilty of adultery. Hester's punishment is to wear the scarlet letter “A” to inform the entire town that this woman is a sinner. Throughout the novel, the reader comes to know Hester, the sinner, Reverend Dimmesdale, the minister that Hester had an affair with; and Chillingworth, Hester’s estranged husband whose vengeful mission is to get back at Dimmesdale. The
scarlet letter shows the interactions of these characters and the reaction of these characters to Hester's sin. The unacknowledged sin that Hawthorne deals with in The Scarlet Letter is hypocrisy. All three main characters, Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth, commit the sin of hypocrisy. Hawthorne shows that hypocrisy is indeed a sin by punishing the offenders in various ways including isolation, misery, and even death.
Hester’s strength and independence allows her to deal with her sin maturely. Instead of running away from humiliation, she owns her punishment and accepts it for what it is. However, Hester surrenders to the will of the court, even though for a short time she feels as though her punishment was unfair, and that she was not a sinner at all. In the prison while Hester was appealing her case to him she says, "Thou knowest, thou knowest that I was frank with thee. I felt no love, nor feigned any" (Hawthorne Ch. 4; 51). Later on while speaking to Dimmsdale, Hester further tries to prove her innocence by saying, “What we did had a consecration of its own. We
felt it so" (Hawthorne Ch.17; 194). Therefore Hester believes she has not committed a sin at all. The fact that she accepted the court’s decision so indifferently and wore the scarlet letter is the first way she was hypocritical. Hester, although she does not believe she has sinned, wears the scarlet letter and flouts her hypocrisy to the town. Over the years Hester endures the hardships that result from her decision to wear the scarlet letter. The source of her shame is her own sin of hypocrisy. If Hester was honest perhaps she would not have had to deal with the hardships the scarlet letter brought with it. Hester’s acceptance of this sin is not the only way she is a hypocrite. Another form of Hester’s hypocrisy is her agreement with Chillingworth to keep his
name a secret. Even though Hester claims to love Dimmesdale, she agrees to keep Chillingworth a secret. Hester is responsible for the pain that Dimmesdale goes through because even though she knew this wicked man’s identity and purpose, she allowed him to dwell in her lovers home and torture him.
Arthur Dimmesdale is another character that is punished for his hypocrisy. Dimmesdale is a minister; the people look up to him for guidance and direction. The townspeople think of him as, "a true priest, a true religionist, with the reverential sentiment largely
developed, and an order of...