The Power of Secret Sin in The Scarlet Letter
One of the main themes in The Scarlet Letter is that of the secret. The plot of the book is centered on Hester Prynne’s secret sin of adultery. Nathaniel Hawthorne draws striking parallelism between secrets held and the physical and mental states of those who hold them. The Scarlet Letter demonstrates that a secret or feeling kept within slowly engulfs and destroys the soul such as Dimmesdale’s sin of hypocrisy and Chillingworth’s sin of vengeance, while a secret made public, such as Prynne’s adultery, can allow a soul to recover and even strengthen.
When a secret is hidden inside it can engulf and even destroy a person. Arthur Dimmesdale, a revered young minister in the town, demonstrates what happens to the soul. Dimmesdale, as it is later made known, commits the serious crime of adultery with a young married woman named Hester Prynne living in the Plymouth Colony. Hester is unwilling to reveal her partner in sin. Dimmesdale’s fear of persecution and humiliation forces him to keep his sin a secret. So he watches as Hester is placed before her peers on a platform in front of the whole town and is then called to speak to her and urge that she reveal her fellow adulterer. In essence, he is called upon to commit yet another sin, that of hypocrisy. Dimmesdale’s accumulated sins build inside of him, constantly afflicting his soul until it begins to affect him physically. Thinking himself a hypocrite, he tries to ease his conscience and requite his sin by scourging himself on the chest during the night, fasting for days on end and even climbing the same platform on which Hester began her humiliation.
Walking in the shadow of a dream, as it were, and perhaps actually under the influence of a species of somnambulism (sleepwalk), Mr. Dimmesdale reached the spot where, now so long since, Hester Prynne had lived through her first hours of public ignominy. The same platform or scaffold, black and weather-stained with the storm or sunshine of seven long years, and footworn, too, with the tread of many culprits who had since ascended it, remained standing beneath the balcony of the meeting-house. The minister went up the steps. This sounds like a quote or a paraphrase and it should be cited with the name of the author and the page number.
Dimmesdale’s increasingly enervated physical condition is evident through his eyes, which show “a world of pain in their troubled and melancholy depths,” As years go by, the minister is inundated with guilt, to the point that he is physically deteriorating. All the while giving phenomenal sermons and regarded as a pillar of the community, internally, Dimmesdale could not feel worse. Dimmesdale’s pain was obviously the result of his concealed sins. The sins you commit and keep secret cause great anguish to the soul and eventually they begin to take over human life.
In addition, a sin or secret that goes...