The Theme Of Guilt In The Scarlet Letter By Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlet Letter written by Nathaniel Hawthorne presents a series of events and perspectives that ultimately lead to multiple angles of how Hawthorne shows that guilt creates an eternal punishment. Through the different ways the characters carry their guilt, Showing what guilt does not accomplish and how guilt is acquired through the mind.
First, guilt can be broken down into how it is carried throughout all of the characters in this novel.
An obvious most known character is Dimmesdale; he carries guilt because he has never told the town the truth and to add to that he is from such a respectable view of status in the town. Nathaniel writes how, “It is inconceivable, the agony with which this public veneration tortured him!”(Hawthorne, 128) Dimmesdale carries his guilt on his chest for years and years. He mostly feels guilty not that he had an affair but, he never told anyone and how he never received public punishment. But, the fact is he was going through punishment day by day as he felt remorse and dishonesty in his heart. Next, The main character, Hester, is she feels she will never be a good mother to pearl because she had once sinned and the town reminds Hester of that every day as she wears an ornate letter “A”. It states that, “The days of the far-off future would toil onward, still with the same burden for her to take up and bear along with her”(72). The quote describes the hopeless future Hester faces ahead as she will forever feel the symbol on her chest and in her arms as pearl is the constant reminder of the infidelity she has done. Hester cannot make a fresh start with the town so, she isolates herself but worries that she will never be a good enough mother for pearl because she has done a bad crime that is an awful example for the child to grow up around and, while Dimmesdale and Hester have both committed the crime and conceived a child Hester feels regret and pain that she will never be good enough. Dimmesdale exclaims, “happy are you, Hester, that wears the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret! (177), With the town already knowing what Hester has done, Dimmesdale feels he has more issues affecting him but, in fact, he is not considering how this incident is affecting Hester’s life with pearl. The quote contrasts how one guilt impacts in different ways for different people. One of the least expected characters to perceive guilt is Chillingworth, He feels guilty that he has made Hester marry him that time ago and then abandoned her and that he is somewhat sorry for the pain he has caused between her and Dimmesdale. Chillingworth is picking herbs when Hester and pearl approach him and the “doctor” says, “Peace Hester peace reply to old man with a gloomy sternness it is not granted me to pardon I have long forgotten, to me, and explains all that we do, and all we suffer. By the first step, this plant The Germ of evil; but since then. Oh, it has been a dark necessity... Ye. Have wronged me are not sinful, in a kind of typical illusion; neither am I seemed like, who has smashed a fiend's office from his hands it is Our Fate. Let the flower blossom as it may, now go sideways, you'll have thou Wilt with Yonder man. He waved his hand” (157). Honestly, this presents a character change in Chillingworth as before he was rude, bitter, and quite creepy. He now shows sorrow, guilt with a sarcastic and rude flair but, it’s still changed. He added to his guilt that he is sorry for what he had partially caused. This proves that everyone holds guilt in different ways but, everyone is capable of feeling it
The second branch of how Hawthorne breaks quilt down is what guilt does not accomplish.
When thinking of what guilt does accomplish there is an extensive list because that is what the characters feel in the moment and there only focusing on what the guilt they have now is accomplishing. Well, in The Scarlet Letter, what stuck out to what guilt does not accomplish is forgiveness, happiness, satisfaction, and success. The surrounding feeling of guilt and worry never allows a person to reach their full potential, it alters their ability to be successful as shown by Hester when being accepted by the community for being the mother to such an “elfish” child. The lack of forgiveness is shown by Dimmesdale as he never forgave himself. By never forgiving himself he never acquired complete happiness with Hester. Dimmesdale mumbles into his hands, “Therefore, above all things else, he loathed his miserable self” (127)! The guilt allows Dimmesdale to feel awful and disgust with himself, what it does not allow Dimmesdale to feel is happiness and self-satisfaction. The secret he has been holding inside himself for years is eating away his ability to feel anything positive and rewarding because the guilt has allowed his body to grieve the guilt and mistakes. HE will never be the best person he can possibly be because he was forever focused on the sorrow and pain the lie has engraved into his heart. Because of guilt has allowed Hester to never feel accepted. She may be successful in her tailoring and feeding the poor but in the eyes of the community, she will never be worth enough. Which leads Hester to never be able to resolve the guilt and feel worthy.
Finally, How is guilt acquired through the minds in the Scarlet Letter. Quilt is a concept that allows your body to feel regretuitfull for actions that happened for a moment that keep repeating in your mind for minutes to-days to-eternity. The views a community or society holds and expect can often gratify the emotions of guilt. The Puritan views in this society force those who have sinned to be publically humiliated and as their lives go on after, the community will constantly remind them of their wrongdoing. But, that’s only for those who find out. This novel was written a long time ago but, as the audience, it can’t help but to wonder what those in the crowd, the town, the community... if they have ever sinned. Why would the shame a sinner who publicly vocalized her situation rather than one who holds it inside for years? In fact, wouldn’t your mind make you feel guilty for not getting it off your chest, and it’s almost respectable to accept your wrongdoing and move on rather than conceal a sin for years like Dimmesdale. The mind often forces us to think of morals and mental punishment as that is what guilt does accomplish but, sometimes it may feel too intense as this situation for Dimmesdale felt. Hawthorne narrates, “It was his genuine impulse to adore the truth, and to reckon all things shadow-like, and utterly devoid of weight or value, that had not its divine essence as the life within the life”(128). The guilt Dimmesdale felt was mentally torturing himself and ultimately drove him to his death. Because of the ideals of the Puritans and the pressure of their society. The secret and guilt made Dimmesdale lose his mind. Because the author uses such enhancing imagery, it is understood the tows ideals and views toward certain topics but, hypothetically if the whole town was visually impaired and Hester still had to wear the beautifully crafted, large symbol of the letter “A”, nobody would see the letter. And therefore nobody in the community would visually see the sin. This shows the negative impact of society’s views and how guilt is acquired and enhanced mentally.
The topic of guilt is shown in the breakdown of what guilt the characters feel then transitions into what guilt does not accomplish for the characters, and finally how their guilt is really mentally acquired through the society. Nathaniel Hawthorne has written the Scarlet Letter to present the perspectives of guilt and how guilt transforms the whole storyline of the novel.