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Two Faces In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

1359 words - 5 pages

The Scarlet Letter:  Two Faces              

"No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without finally becoming bewildered as to which may be true”. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, this quote applies to the two main characters of the novel. It applies to Arthur Dimmesdale in a literal way; he clearly is not the man that he appears to be, and the guilt that goes along with such deception consumes his entire life. The quote also applies to Hester Prynne, but in quite a different way because it was not her choice to wear the “face” that she was forced to wear.  The mark of the scarlet letter on her bosom determined how others perceived her and, in turn, how she was expected to perceive herself. At first, Hester did not consider the sin that she committed as blasphemous and horrible as the people of Boston did, but she was forced to wear the “face” of a sinner.

Neither Hester or Arthur could live their lives concealing their true emotions. Arthur literally could not live with it, while Hester changed the way she felt on the inside to correspond to her guilty external image. At the court house, when Arthur Dimmesdale was pleading for Hester to reveal the name of the man with whom she had an affair, it was clear that a part of him actually wanted everyone to know that it was he who was the guilty one.

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...better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life…(47).

When this plea is made, it appears to be quite ironic. The man who participated in the sin is trying to convince his accomplice to do him in. However, this statement reveals that Arthur was not simply a confused man; he was completely bewildered. He was "bewildered to the point where a part of him really wanted Hester to let the whole town know that it was he who was the guilty one. Whether he meant to or not, Arthur was very convincing in his speech, which leads one to believe that he was being pulled in two completely opposite directions. A part of him wanted more than anything to have the weight of this secret sin lifted from his conscience; another part of him, arguably the practical part, knew that he could never let the people know the truth. His facade and image were much too important not only to him, but to the entire community. If he had admitted to everyone what he had done, then he would have been seen, not only as a hypocrite, but a betrayer of everyone's trust. Some people in the community might have even started doubting the religion because, if this man who they considered holy and righteous, could not live a life without sin, then how could they? Clearly, Arthur was asking these questions as well, and the world in which he had lived and had served so faithfully was beginning to close in on him. It was because of this that his health began to fail and his...

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