Guilty Until Proven Innocent Essay

1015 words - 5 pages

The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is one of the first examples of American Literature. Written with a vendetta against his heritage, with his ancestors having played major parts in the Salem Witch Trials, The Scarlet Letter is a criticism of Puritan society and culture. It presents many of the faults, be they hypocrisy, blackmail, or the Christian “Hive-mentality”, through the story of Hester Prynne, an adulteress. Revealed to her community by the child borne through her sin, she suffers the hate of a Puritan society and the isolation of being a pariah. These, though unpleasant, are escapable pains, whereas guilt is not. The guilt driven onto the major characters by the ...view middle of the document...

She artfully adorned the scarlet “A”, transmuting it from the symbol of shame to a sign of distinction. As a result, both of the elegance of the letter and of her good deeds, people "refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification" (Hawthorne 242). They no longer saw it as her guilt for her sins, but as a mark of pride for her penance. Through her guilt, she became stronger, not letting it consume her. As she continued to wear the letter, it seemed to become a holy object, emitting an aura of respect and grace. It is said that the scarlet letter has an “[…] effect of the cross on a nun's bosom. It imparted to the wearer a kind of sacredness, which enabled her to walk securely amid all peril. Had she fallen among thieves, it would have kept her safe" (Hawthorne 245).
While Hester was suffering the shame of the public eye, Arthur Dimmesdale, Hester’s accomplice in her crime, feels an altogether different type of guilt: personal guilt. He has his life nearly ruined by it. When given the opportunity to confess his sins, Dimmesdale refrained, and had to hold this secret for seven years. As a very religious man, this tormented him. Having to live this lie and preach as a hypocrite led to him adopting his own penance, just as Hester had. However, unlike Hester, his sin was private and so was his penance. Throughout the story, Dimmesdale’s health deteriorates and he grows weaker. He appears weaker and gaunt, and turns to Roger Chillingworth to be his physician. While living together, Chillingworth discovers Dimmesdale’s sin: a red “A” on his breast. It’s not known how this occurred, though Pearl does say "It is because, when the minister wrote his name in the book, the Black Man set his mark in that place?" (Hawthorne 281) suggesting he had sold his soul to the devil. Whether this is true or not, doesn’t matter....

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