The “Scarlet Letter” is a tale of the results of our dealings with our sins. The story is about a triangle of lovers. Hester, Chillingsworth’s wife, thinking her husband dead, had an affair with Dimmesdale and had his child,
The narrator follows Hester, the main character of the story, over seven years, as she raises her daughter Pearl and struggles to live among a people who judge her daily (Hawthorne, 2351). Her home is symbolically located outside of the town, alone, as she is, and separated from society as if she is cast off. She feels the burning shame of the scarlet letter on her breast in all her interactions with the townsfolk.
While Hester bears the effects of the sin in the full light of day, the minister, Mr. Dimmesdale, suffers the most in his secrecy. The hypocrisy of his high station, co-existing with the guilt in his heart, ruins his health and he becomes a patient of the ever watchful physician Mr. Chillingsworth (
The physician, Mr. Chillingsworth, who is working to revenge the wrong done to him, is hiding his dark intent and secretly looking for the anonymous culprit. He settles on the preacher with whom he is in frequent contact as his physician. The two are persuaded to occupy the same boarding house, in order for the physician to be ever watchful over the beloved minister (
All along the way we see
The pride of the community in its own righteousness leads it to harshly judge Hester as if she were worthy of death while exalting the two characters who were sinners in secret. This story reveals the pain caused by our judgments of others when we falsely assume our own superiority. Hester was never allowed to forget her sin and as a result her humility became the vehicle for compassionate service to others. In the end, she gained the respect of her community. All knew her sin and somehow it made her more approachable to others who suffered. She became a friend and counselor, offering comfort and advice to her fellow citizens who had so cruelly cast her out and judged her.
Meanwhile, the secrecy of the others had a twisted and debilitating effect on their well being. Yet, when Hester told Dimmesdale the true identity of Chillingsworth and they schemed to flee the place (
Chillingsworth, who does not seem to feel any guilt for the offense he is committing against the minister, becomes twisted and devilish. Yet many in the community revered him for his learning and skill to heal physical ailments, a rarity in New
The introduction to the Scarlet letter, “the Custom House” is a separate narration by the author, presented in first person, of his discovery of the scarlet letter and its story in an office under a pile of rubble (
This novel, if presented without the laborious introduction, teaches a powerful message about the danger of hypocrisy. Pride and its sister hypocrisy are dangerous poisons to both body and soul. As Dale Ryman puts it Hester, “made the best of a bad situation, showed extreme strength while enduring unbelievable pain, and even improved her public image over time, but it was just her way of turning lemons into lemonade”.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Scarlet Letter.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature Volume B: Early Nineteenth Century 1800-1865. Ed. Paul Lauter. 5th ed.