The novel under the nameof ‘The Scarlet Letter’ written by Nathaniel Hawthorne introduces us to thelife and customs of the Massachussets Bay Colony during the 17th century. The rigidpuritan society presented in the novel is a strict and confiding one aspuritans merged their religious beliefs with the law. The main story follows awoman named Hester Prynne who committed the terrible and unimaginable sin ofadultery. Her husband has been missing for two years and Hester got pregnantand gave birth to a baby girl named Pearl. The townspeople decided that the bestpunishment for such an awful crime would be making Hester wear a scarlet letter’A’ on her chest so she could be publicly humiliated and recognized by everyoneas a sinner.
The letter should also serve as a warning to others that thepuritan rules should not be broken and if they were, there certainly followed adevastating punishment to teach the sinners a lesson. Hester and Pearl becomeexiles and live in the forest nearby because the townspeople try to avoidHester and her daughter at any cost. The father of Hester’schild is reverend Arthur Dimmesdale which makes this whole situation morecomplicated. Hester’s ex-husband, who has been gone for two years, suddenlyreturns but under a false name of RogerChillingworth and with no intention of helping Hester.
Instead he begs Hesterto tell him who the father is so he could pursue his ultimate goal of torturinghim and getting his revenge. Hester faces publichumiliation for her deeds that she herself considers to be appropriatepunishment for what she has done. She proudly wears the letter on her chest andeven embroids it as to say that she is aware of what strong meaning this has.”On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth surrounded with an elaborateembroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter ‘A.’ Itwas so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance offancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to theapparel which she wore; ”(citat knjige)One of the main themes inthis novel is hypocrisy. Whether it’s the townspeople or the main charactersthemselves, hypocrisy is expressed in many different ways. Arthur Dimmesdale, whocommitted a terrible sin, even worse than Hester because of his position, ishypocritical. He doesn’t want to be held accountable for his actions but theguilt is stronger than himself.
He is presented as the holiest man among themall, the one who preaches moral values that everyone should adhere to when inreality he is the one with a dark secret. Even though he doesn’t wear a visiblemark of any kind on his clothing, the guilt is trying to reach out through him.He bears a letter A on his skin which burns everyday as a constant reminder. Dimmesdaleis aware of his actions and is trying his hardest to achieve penance but to noavail.
His soul is finally at rest when he publicly admits that he is Pearl’sfather and her acceptance rids him of the guilt that was plaguing him. ”The opening publiccondemnation of Hester, in which Dimmesdale stands with the Puritan patriarchs,is to be contrasted with the night scaffold scene in which Dimmesdale iscondemned by his conscience and Hester steps up to comfort him. Both scenesthen offer in the final scaffold scene two overlapping dialogues- one to thecongregation and one to Hester alone- which together dramatically reveal thepastor’s hypocrisy.” (citat the scarlet letter second edition)The townspeople’s hypocrisyis also very blatant. When Dimmesdale gives his most passionate speech, the townspeople refuse to believe that a manlike him could’ve actually been talking about his own mistakes and how theconsequences haunt him, causing him to lead a miserable life of lie. ”Would not the peoplestart up in their seats, by a simultaneous impulse, and tear him down out ofthe pulpit which he defiled? Not so, indeed! They heard it all, and did butreverence him the more.
They little guessed what deadly purport lurked in thoseself-condemning words. “The godly youth!” said they among themselves.”The saint on earth!”(citat knjiga) They are always ready tojudge and go out of their way to shame people who made mistakes as if theydon’t make them themselves.
When the people were trying to decide on Hester’sfate, among the recommended options was even a punishment by hanging. Hester’s husband RogerChillingworth is hypocritical as well. At the beginning of the novel no onewould suspect that Chillingworth has done anything wrong. Despite hisdisappearance, he seems to have spent his absence to study medical proceduresthat he now employs to help people when needed. He forgives Hester for adulteryand in return only wishes to know the name of the child’s father. From thatmoment on, Chillingworth’s relentless desire for revenge completely changes hischaracter.
After he finds out that Dimmesdale is thefather, he fakes a friendship and spends his days by his side watching himgetting eaten out alive by guilt. While Dimmesdale thinks Chillingworth isspending his time trying to find a cure for his illness, Chillingworth simplylives to watch him suffer and derives some sort of a sick pleasure from doingso. On the outside however,he acts like nothing has changed just so no one would notice what he was doingthe whole time. His soul becomes corrupted and his emotions take over to turnhim into someone who doesn’t recognize himself anymore.
Finally, Hester Prynneherself expresses hypocrisy. In this society, Hester is fighting battles of herown. She has to raise and provide for her child all on her own.
Both of the menin her lives didn’t help her in any way, if anything they were a burdain. She is strong because of the way she isdealing with the stigma that was placed on her by everyone. Despite all of thehate and disgust she has received from the community that she once belonged to,she manages to turn her situation around for the better.Hester does not in factbelieve she has sinned. Although she accepts the scarlet letter as a form ofpunishment, she does not think that she committed a crime. She claims thatbecause of her not ever truly loving Roger, they were in fact never married. Therefore,being with another man is not considered adultery.
”All in all, Hester’ssome ideas and thoughts are admirable and appraisable, but if we put them withHester’s seemingly honest appearance and her behavior in trying to obey therules that she was disguised together, some of her superficial belief and thenature of her behavior are abundantly revealed.”(citat http://citeseerx.ist.
psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.656.8159&rep=rep1&type=pdf)She is trying really hardto become the member of society once again by doing good deeds but that iscompletely opposite of what she believes in.
In conclusion,Hawthorne’s characters are hypocritical even if at first they do not appear assuch. Hypocrisy is easily overlooked when put in contrast with other, stronger elementsthat define this story and make it what it is. ‘The Scarlet Letter’ shows usthat things that we needn’t judge others so harshly for their actions becausewe all make mistakes and that’s what makes us human.