Throughout the Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne criticizes Puritan culture and questions the Puritans laws and way of life while highlighting the double life that many characters live which later lead to their demise. A prime example of a character that lives a double life is Arthur Dimmesdale. Throughout the novel, he is portrayed as this pure Puritan priest who is not capable of any wrongdoing.
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The townspeople see him as the godly youth the saint on earth! (Hawthorne 120). He is even the man that questions Hester at her trial saying be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; 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 life. What can thy silence do for him to add hypocrisy to sin? (Hawthorne 57-58), but as the story progresses we learn that Arthur is, in fact, the father of the child born from adultery, Pearl.
This double life that he lives leads to a decline in his health. All of the townspeople thought the paleness of the young ministers cheek was accounted for by his too earnest devotion to study, his scrupulous fulfilment of parochial duty, and, his more than all, by the fasts and vigils oh which he made a frequent practices in order to keep the grossness of this earthly state from clogging and obscuring his spiritual lamp (Hawthorne 99-100). Little do the people know that Arthur is actually starving himself and doing all these prayer vigils because he feels immensely guilty. He suffers under bodily disease, and gnawed and tortured by some black trouble of the soul Mr.Dimmesdale had achieved a brilliant popularity in his sacred office. (Hawthorne 117). Even though Arthur is thriving in his public life he is slowly drowning and being wholly consumed by the guilt that he bears. Hawthrone highlights how Puritans feel that every preacher or church leader is pure even when they have committed crimes punishable by death while trying to show that hiding your sins or part of you, such as a child, can have physiological, physical, and mental consequences.
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