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Essay/Term paper: The effects of sin in the scarlet letter

Essay, term paper, research paper:  The Scarlet Letter

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The Effects of Sin in The Scarlet Letter

Sin is the main theme in the Scarlet Letter. All of the characters in the book
were somehow affected by the main sin, which was adultery. The three main
characters were the most widely affected, and their whole lives were molded by the
way they dealt with the sin. The sin surrounds, encloses, and strangles them.
There was no escaping from its harsh consequences.
Hester Prynne's sin was as an adulteress, and the result of this was that she
had to wear the scarlet letter "A." She feels that her sin has taken away everything
she had, and given her one thing in return; her baby. Although she had dignity and
pride when she first stepped out of the prison and when she stood upon the scaffold
this "A" unfamilarized and seperated her from the community, and she stood alone
with her child as she does for the most part of her life following this event. From
then on, she was to live away from the community with her baby, Pearl, and was
shunned by everyone. The sin she has committed has made her think that death
would be an easy way out and that she deserves little, for she says, "I have thought
of death, have wished for it, would have even prayed for it, were it fit that such as I
should pray for anything." Throughout the next years, the sin Hester committed
changes her personality and identity. Once a beautiful woman, Hester now looks
plain and drab. Once passionate, she is now somber and serious. She had
contained a precious quality of womanhood that has now faded away. Her plain
gray clothes symbolize her temperament and disposition. There are also good
effects that the sin has on her. She becomes more giving and caring, and is
endlessly helping the poor and sick and doing neighbors favors. Hester feels that
she owes it to the community, and is also forcing herself into a life of service to
others. The sin stays with her throughout her life, and even when she leaves her
town, she feels obligated to come back and fullfill her punishment. The sin made
her lifestyle worse, but it changed her character somewhat for the better.
Arthur Dimmesdale, a reverend in the Puritan Church, committed the sin of
adultery with Hester. The difference between their cases was that Dimmesdale did
not confess until seven years after the crime took place. Although he never
received a punishment from the government as Hester did, he punished himself
night and day. He was severely tortured with guilt in his heart, and carried out
prolonged vigils, fasts, and other physical damage to himself. As a result of not
confessing his sin, he despised himself above all other things. The fact that
his parishoners love him more than they had after he told a sermon about
hypocrites makes him loathe himself all the more. Over the seven years that
this story takes place in, Dimmesdale becomes very ill. He becomes pale,
nervous and sickly. After a while, it gets to the point where he uses a cane to
walk, and people are afraid for his life. The reason for his illness is not
disease, but the effect of sin and guilt on his heart. Finally, after putting
himself through a living hell for seven years, Dimmesdale's dying words are
his confession.
Roger Chillingworth comes to Boston to seek out his wife, Hester
Prynne. When he arrives, she is standing upon a scaffold with a baby in her
arms. After finding out what was going on, the first thing he says is "It irks me,
nevertheless, that the partner of her inquity should not, at least, stand on the
scaffold by her side. But he will be known!- he will be known!- he will be known!"
This foreshadows the sin that he commits, which is greater than Hester and
Dimmesdales'. Chillingworth devotes his entire life to finding Hester's partner in
crime and punishing him. He suspects Dimmesdale and so becomes his doctor and
moves in with him. Once he is certain of his culprit, he keeps him alive to live in
agony. The effect of his great sin on his own character is that of a complete
transformation to evil. His physical characteristics become twisted and corrupted,
as does his soul and life purpose. His one-track mind leads him to eventual self-
deterioration. He is the worst sinner in the book, and once his transformation was
complete, there was no turning back.
The way sin affects the lives of the characters in the book, and the way they
each deal with it is both enlightening and unsettling. In a way, one can see why the
characters acted they way they did, but it's unsettling to see them end up the way
they did. If there is one thing to learn from The Scarlet Letter, it is not to give in to
sin, and if you already have, own up to it and learn from it.


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