Nature of Sin: the Progression of the Theme by Character Dispositions in “The Scarlet Letter”

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Although one may attempt not to sin, all humans, in due course, succumb at some time or another. While individuals may not be able to ignore the fate which comes for them, the ability of free will permits people to determine how they will react to sin. Nathaniel Hawthorne, an author during the 1800s, created a character who witnessed the nature of sin and how it bestowed havoc, not only to a single human being but to an entire region in his novel, The Scarlet Letter. This theme, nature of sin, revolves around the four major characters of the narrative and it continued to progress as the plot became more riveting and as the characters personalities began to uncover. In Hawthornes piece of writing, it reveals this idea by exposing the citizens of New England, during the Puritan era, and the detrimental effects of sin through Hester Prynne, Pearl, Roger Chillingworth, and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. In the novel, The Scarlet Letter which was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the narrator develops the theme of nature of sin by analyzing the different characters actions from the beginning of the story to the end.

The narrator of The Scarlet Letter uses Hester Prynne as the introduction of the nature of sin by recognizing that sin first begins with shame. Hester Prynne, through the eyes of the Puritans, is a sinner. She had gone against the Puritan religion ways and committed adultery. Hester is introduced to the readers as a young woman who had lost all control of her life due to this conviction. She was forced, by New England citizens, to wear the letter A on her breast as punishment for her sins. When she was sentenced to stand on a scaffold for three hours with her newborn in front of the entire community, Hester wondered, Could it be true? She clutched the child so fiercely to her breast, that it sent forth a cry; she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and the shame were real (Hawthorne 51).

The reader was able to clearly depict that Hester could not believe the position she was in that very moment and had to remind herself by coming upon the objects that conveyed her shame. She stood in front of hundreds of people, and all eyes were on her with their scorching, judgmental faces. Hester had trouble to accept the amount of shame she now consumes, but she assured herself to believe and now everyone will now look upon her differently. Shame is a painful feeling of humiliation caused by wrongful behavior and now the citizens of New England, and the reader, look at Hester Prynnes new life as the beginning of her shameful and sinful path. The reader had only a glimpse of what Hesters old life was like, but that did not matter anymore. Nature of sin first begins with shame, as shown by Hester Prynne and it follows with a newborn infant. During the duration of the novel, the theme of nature of sin was further progressed by Pearl, who was represented as a constant reminder of the acted sin. Pearl is the illegitimate daughter of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. Throughout the novel, she became known as a demon in angels clothing to the townspeople. She was a curious child who, some saw, had aspects of devilish like qualities because she was the product of sin. As the narrator was introducing Pearl, he mentioned, God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished, had given her a lovely child, whose place was on that same dishonored bosom, to connect her parent for ever with the race and descent of mortals (Hawthorne 74).

Readers are able to exemplify that because Pearl is a product of Hester Prynnes sin, she has the same value as the scarlet letter A does, which is also to be a reminder of the sin. It can be said that one of the aspects of sin is being able not to forget it, so the author made Pearl a living, breathing reminder. Pearls value of being a human rather than a piece of fabric is more memorable because to the Puritans, Pearl is a direct consequence from God. The Puritans base their whole lives around God and religion so that makes them believe Pearl is a more devious child than any other and that she is here to prompt Hester and the other citizens that humans are in a path to eternal damnation. Pearls reoccurrence embarks the continuous journey the theme of nature of sin endures in the novel and it persists by turning into something more malicious. As the novel continued, Roger Chillingworth portrayed how sin can manifest a man to become more malicious and immoral. It was learned that he was willing to go to any length to get his revenge on the man who committed adultery with his wife, Hester Prynne.

Chillingworth is a new persona he had come up with after being presumed dead for two years. He remade himself as a physician and vowed his entire life to gain vengeance on Pearls father, Arthur Dimmesdale. When Hester and Dimmesdale both knew Roger Chillingworths true character, Dimmesdale had told her, ""We are not, Hester, the worst sinners in the world. There is one worse than even the polluted priest! That old man's revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart (Hawthorne 161). It can be depicted to the reader that Chillingworth's sin is far from comparable than any other character in the novel. Chillingworths thirst for vengeance has made him a cruel person and that is the greatest sin of all. Throughout the years he remained in Boston, his character changed so dramatically from admirable to evil that even those who did not know him personally seemed to notice an evil nature deep within his soul trying to break free. His obsession with such evil can make a man turn sin into something far darker than it has to be. The nature of Chillingworths sin is based on a darkened heart that has allowed the character to receive an immoral personality and the theme can proceed by as an end of life as well.

In The Scarlet Letter, the theme of nature of sin was concluded by rendering Arthur Dimmesdales character that sin could cause death. Dimmesdale is a very well respected member of the community for which he is a reverend and preaches the word of God to the Puritans. Dimmesdales body refuses to reveal his own sin, which is that he is Pearls father, so he tortures himself and eventually engraved a scarlet letter A to his chest. The concealment of his sin was eventually revealed to the members of New England towards the end of the novel. On the verge of Dimmesdales death, the narrator includes, Then, down he sank upon the scaffold! Hester partly raised him, and supported his head against her bosom May God forgive thee! said the minister. Thou, too, hast deeply sinned! (Hawthorne 209). The reader is clearly able to discern that Arthur Dimmesdales sin has led him to his own death. Although Dimmesdale asked for forgiveness from God, his sin against himself was more sinful than his sin against anyone else, including God. Dimmesdale hurt himself more than anyone else could have by starving and by physically and mentally torturing his body. He concealed himself with this sin and did not reveal it to anyone but himself, and that has resulted in him to pay the price of death. The progression of the theme of nature of sin, that was portrayed in Arthur Dimmesdale, was concluded as the end of life.

As it was shown in the novel, the progression in one of the themes, the nature of sin, can be scrutinized by the characters the narrative revolves around. This development over the course of the story adds to the overall text of The Scarlet Letter. One sin induced many others and, in a result, led to the revelation of different aspects of the major characters. Hawthorne uses sin as a way to remind the reader that sin can start off as something wholesome, but then affect the lives of people who did not ask for it. It can also be deduced that sin follows the course of life in some ways. It is born into the world as something purely innocent and uncomplicated, then nature takes its course and further manipulates sin. Sin will influence and abet the sinner during its life and will soon die into the hands of the sinner. In some cases, it may actually follow them into the afterlife and live on. In the 21st century, sin like Hesters adultery is not mentioned because there are more pressing issues in society, but the overall nature of sin can ruin the lives of many and should be more widely noticed.

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Nature of Sin: The Progression of the Theme by Character Dispositions in "The Scarlet Letter". (2019, May 18). Retrieved February 23, 2024 , from

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