Scarlet Letter Essay

1344 words - 6 pages

Nathaniel Hawthorne constructs the plot of his novel The Scarlet Letter around two sinners and traces their journeys towards acceptance and belonging as they experience the effects of sin and guilt their individual ways, especially Arthur Dimmesdale who becomes increasingly guilt wrought throughout the novel. Dimmesdale’s steep decline under the weight of his sin essentially causes him to become trapped in a prison of guilt, his own “desert places,” that he spends the majority of the novel attempting to escape. As Dimmesdale attempts to gauge the advantages and disadvantages of a full confession he finds himself in the midst of an intense internal battle over between his immense guilt and ...view middle of the document...

What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him—yea, compel him, as it were—to add hypocrisy to sin?” (62). While Dimmesdale practically begs Hester to put the blame on him, his cowardice and hypocrisy are illustrated by him hiding behind his question to Hester when he full well knows he is the father of her child. Although Dimmesdale feels immeasurable guilt over his sin, he must beg Hester to give up his secret because cannot bring himself to confess his sin publicly. Eventually, Dimmesdale’s guilty heart causes his health to slowly deteriorate because of the immense burden of his guilt. For example, Dimmesdale is constantly described as holding his hand over his heart as if in pain (cite?). Similar to Hester’s scarlet letter, Dimmesdale’s guilt expresses itself physically through him holding his hand over his heart to hide his own A, his guilt. Nothing seems to have the power to relieve Dimmesdale of his terrible guilt. Dimmesdale tries many ways to pay penance, He goes without food and sleep for long periods of time, and he also whips himself on his back, causing cuts and bleeding, but to no avail (127).
Dimmesdale's guilt makes him want to confess his sin, but is too cowardly to face the consequences of confession. Dimmesdale tortures himself by constantly revisiting his guilt and reliving his sin in his mind and feel that his guilt is weighing him down so he feels as if he cannot “[climb] the high mountain-peaks of faith and sanctity he would have climbed, had not the tendency been thwarted by the burden, whatever it might be, of crime or anguish, beneath which it was his doom to totter” (124). He resolves to tell the truth to his parishioners his horrible truth in the hopes that he will be able to escape his guilt and his “desert places.” In an act of seeming bravery, he climbs up into the pulpit and speaks of his wickedness and unworthiness. Yet, Dimmesdale speaks vaguely about his evilness without naming his exact sin. Dimmesdale desperately wants to clear his guilty conscience; however, his cowardice prevents him from doing so in a valid way. By not referencing his precise sin, Dimmesdale does not make an actual confession and therefore his feeble attempt has no effect on liberating him from his immense burden. If anything, his humble, self-loathing, and ambiguous admission make him appear more saint-like than ever, and stoke his cowardliness. After a long night of wandering, Dimmesdale finds himself “driven [to the scaffold] by the impulse of that Remorse which dogged him everywhere” (129). After ascending the steps of the scaffold, Dimmesdale’s purpose is to stand on there until dawn breaks so everyone will see him and know his sin. His cowardice prevents him from being able to stop thinking about what might happen to him if he is seen, suddenly reaches his breaking point as his “agony of heaven-defying guilt and vain repentance” cause him to shriek aloud. While still standing on the...

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