Dealing With Guilt in The Scarlet Letter
Throughout The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne attempted to expose the varying ways in which different people deal with lingering guilt from sins they have perpetrated. The contrasting characters of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale ideally exemplified the differences in thought and behavior people have for guilt. Although they were both guilty of committing the same crime, these two individuals differed in that one punished themselves with physical and mental torture and the other chose to continue on with their life, devoting it to those less fortunate than they.
In order to show this difference in the two main characters, they both had to be put on relatively same grounds. Hawthorne achieved this by making them both involved in the same offense: adultery. Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale both resided in the same town and both knew the same people in the settlement. However, despite this effort for equality, it was impossible to make both characters play on the same level. For development and intrigue in the plot, Dimmesdale held an occupation in the secular field. Prynne, on the other hand, was a simple seamstress who lived on the outskirts of town. For obvious reasons, Hester Prynne was immediately observed as having taken part in some questionable activities when she gave birth to an infant girl. Dimmesdale evaded detection and hid the information of his part in the illicit nativity. In these ways, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale were not equal in status as they began to deal with the aftermath of their fateful encounter.
Hester chose to deal with her guilt by helping others and becoming very productive. She donated all of her earnings to the needy and sewed clothes for people. Her work was so substantial, the letter became to be known as standing for "able" as opposed to "adulteress." It was apparent to her that there existed no reason in trying to hide her past and what she had done; it was already evident to anyone who glanced at the...