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The Irrepressible Nature Of Fear As Seen In The Scarlet Letter

1337 words - 6 pages

The idea of fear is a fairly simple concept, yet it carries the power to consume and control lives. Fears have stemmed from an inadvertent psychological response to situations deemed threating to one’s personal safety, but have evolved into a complex web of often illogical misconceptions which are able to cloud a person’s judgment and result in situations often worse than originally intended. Fears can be hard to quell, but it has been shown the best way to overcome fears is often to face them, as author James Baldwin asserted when he wrote, “To defend oneself against fear is simply to insure that one will, one day, be conquered by it; fears must be faced.” Baldwin makes strongly qualified ...view middle of the document...

On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A” (Hawthorne 51.) When Hester stood on the platform, she did not cower in fear as she was inclined to; she instead displayed the Scarlet Letter with fearlessness and fortitude. Hester’s reaction to her situation exemplifies Baldwin’s idea of facing ones fear, and consequentially, the situation she was most fearful of turned out almost favorably.
By initially facing her fears of living in public with the shameful mark of the Scarlet Letter, Hester was able to accept this life and continue without the fear of public scorn and humiliation. Although the mark still played a heavy role Hester’s place in society, she was able to overcome its hindrance to an extent, and turn the letter into something positive in the eyes of the Puritans, as shown when the author writes, “Such helpfulness was found in her, —so much power to do, and power to sympathize, —that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne” (Hawthorne 158.) By accepting her fears initially and standing brave in the face of her apprehension over the Scarlet Letter, Hester was able to live a life free of the fear which could have plagued her, and instead became a positive force in society. Hester faced her fear of the town judging the Scarlet Letter and turned to a life of selflessness and charity, and this allowed society to view the Scarlet Letter as something positive, not to be feared. In the end, Hester’s embrace of her Scarlet Letter signified her overcoming her fears, which as Baldwin asserted, allowed her not to be conquered by them.
Much unlike Hester, the character of Reverend Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter shows the reverse side of Baldwin’s allegation. Dimmesdale represents a character unable to face his fears, and in the end suffers through a life full of pain and guilt. Dimmesdale goes undetected and unpunished for his role in Hester’s illegitimate child, which haunts him. However, Dimmesdale intensely feared the consequences of what would become of him and his reputation if he admitted his sin, so he chose to defend himself against his fears instead of facing them directly. Similar to Hester, Dimmesdale is given the opportunity to initially face his fears at the start of the ordeal when Hester is standing with her mark of shame in front of the town, but he instead chooses to avoid a confession as Hawthorne writes, “Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through...

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