Theme Of Guilt In The Scarlet Letter

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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter captures the power of unrepented guilt and its ability to dominate the thoughts and actions of an individual. The destructive influence of guilt manifests itself through the suffering of Arthur Dimmesdale, a highly respected Puritan minister who is guilty of committing adultery with Hester Prynne. As a consequence of their illicit affair, Hester gives birth to their daughter Pearl, who serves as a living reminder of their crime. Although Dimmesdale’s sin remains undisclosed to the public, he is repeatedly tormented by Hester’s former husband, Roger Chillingworth, and falls victim to the mental anguish brought about by his guilty conscience. The minister continually attempts to atone for his sin and…show more content…
After continuously interrogating Hester, Dimmesdale ultimately declares, “She will not speak!” (75) and places “his hand upon his heart” (75) as an outward sign of his remorse. Dimmesdale’s failure to confess his sin at the scaffold instills a sense of guilt into his soul which eventually develops into an unbearable burden of shame.
In the years following his encounter with Hester on the scaffold, Dimmesdale finds his health deteriorating as he struggles to endure his internalized burden of guilt. Unbeknownst to the minister, he is mentally tormented by his physician, Roger Chillingworth, who is seeking revenge on Hester’s fellow adulterer. Despite weakening his mental state, Dimmesdale’s experience with sin gives him a profound understanding of human nature, allowing him to give sermons with “sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind” (160). Ironically, his parishioners misunderstand the minister’s subtle confessions and mistakenly perceive him as “the mouthpiece of Heaven’s messages of wisdom, rebuke, and love” (161). This public adulation reminds him of his hypocrisy and drives him to inflict harm upon himself as a morbid form of penance. Unable to bear his guilt any longer, Dimmesdale finds himself walking to the scaffold “in the gray of the midnight” (166). Hidden from the eyes of the public, the darkness of the night provide him with a moment of relief and allows him to escape the psychological torment caused by his
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