“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it,” said the political activist Aung Sang Suu Kyi in her “Freedom from Fear” speech. Power and fear are tools that corrupt those affected by them, either by using them or being used by them. This ideal has been repeated time and time again in literature as well as in current global situations. Conversely, there are also those who repeatedly move against the current of harsh, imposing leaders and make grand acts of heroism, avoiding the corrupted scourge of the powerful. Examples of this mixed concept can be found in The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, “Unchained Memories,” and in modern-day happenings such as the crisis in Darfur.
In The Scarlet Letter, many characters are unmasked to show corrupted sides of themselves. This corruption usually comes from self-inflicted torture, such as Dimmesdale and his need to punish himself secretly while he remains in a position of power and respect in the community and church. Chillingworth lets himself grow steadily more corrupt as well and revels in the power he holds over Dimmesdale. He lets the power and appeal of revenge take over his entire self, fearing any kind of life without that meaning. Chillingworth becomes a man who, finally seeing his own fear behind losing his power, “lifted his hands with a look of horror, as if he had beheld some frightful shape, which he could not recognize, usurping the place of his own image in a glass. It was one of those moments when a man’s moral aspect is faithfully revealed to his mind’s eye” (132). Chillingworth recognizes his own darkness, but he allows it to consume him without any search for redemption. When Dimmesdale attempts to reveal his dark secret as to the affair, Chillingworth tries to stop him from telling the townspeople. After Dimmesdale finally unveils the secret, Chillingworth loses all means of power over his weak patient, and soon disappears from society and dies.
Contrastingly, Hester shows a rare instance in which a character punished by an overbearing society actually finds her own way to freedom. Although she is given the scarlet letter to make a statement as to the hard and inflexible power of the law, Hester exemplifies a woman burdened by her own sin but still mostly untouched by the cruel hand of society. She is strong for the people around her, her daughter and Dimmesdale, as well as the poor and dying of the town. The society, though, has its own form of corrupt power and its own need for order. Hester and the entire adultery theme threaten their “city on a hill” standards, meaning the threat has to be either publicly humiliated or eradicated, in order for them to avoid any anarchy or change.
Similarly, in The Crucible, there are other eradications that take place in order for the people in power to maintain the upper hand and keep their inferiors apprehensive. Cowards are...