Analysis of Hidden Sin in the Scarlet Letter

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Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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This essay will provide an analysis of the theme of hidden sin in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” It will explore the consequences of secret sin on the characters and the broader implications in the context of Puritan society. PapersOwl showcases more free essays that are examples of Analysis.

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“The human body is the best picture of the human soul”(Ludwig Wittgenstein). This concept by Wittgenstein is best reflected in the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Scarlet Letter is set in the 17 century in a British colony, with Hawthorne telling the reader how hidden sin affects the human body and soul in three different characters: Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, Doctor Chillingworth, and Hester Prynne.

One of the first ways Hawthorne explores the effect on hidden sin is Dimmesdale keeping a secret that tormented him internally and physically till the very end.

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As Hawthorne writes in the scene of which Dimmesdale is walking through the town and the colonist are venerating him. “It is inconceivable the agony with which this public veneration tortured him” (Hawthorne 150). In this quote readers recognizes that Dimmesdale is in agony because how much the public adores him even though he has sinned. This quote also shows how it is “inconceivable” to know how much Dimmesdale is suffering, which tells us that he is hurting more than we can ever imagine. In the quote Hawthorne says “this public veneration tortured him” showing the reader that Dimmesdale morals are so high that it literally kills him to be hypocrite on what people say about him. Another instance where Dimmesdale’s health is failing can be seen when Doctor Chillingworth is encourage to move into Dimmesdale’s home to care for him. “About this period, however, the health of Mr. Dimmesdale had evidently begun to fail” (Hawthorne 113). This quote above, readers can now note the failing health of the minister in the eyes of the public. This is because Dimmesdale has to let Chillingworth ,who is a doctor, move in with to take care of his health and make him better. Even though the quote does not say why Dimmesdale is getting sick, it can be reasonably inferred that Dimmesdale becoming sick because of his guilt. All in all this shows how Hawthorne explores the effects of hidden sin on Dimmesdale.

Doctor Roger Chillingworth’s pride makes him turn into the Devil overtime because of the evil he was doing to Dimmesdale. Hawthorne shows Chillingworth’s evil by writing the following scene involving Hester talking to Chillingworth. “In a word old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence if a man’s faculty of transforming himself into a devil”(Hawthorne 152). In the quote above Hawthorne can be seen saying that Chillingworth transformed himself into to something sinister, which is the Devil. The quote above says many things about Chillingworth, and Hawthorne specifically says “Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence…….” meaning that Doctor Chillingworth was the perfect example of the Devil on Earth. Hawthorne can also be seen saying how impossible it is to become the Devil “If a man’s faculty of transforming himself into a devil”, the language that Hawthorne uses “if” suggests that it is impossible or nearly impossible to become the devil. Another example of Roger Chillingworth turning into the Devil can be seen in the conversation between Hester and Chillingworth; “This unhappy person made this transformation by devoting himself, for seven years, to the constant analysis of a heart full of torture, and serving his enjoyment thence, and adding fuel to the fiery tortures which he analyzed and gloated over”. The reader can see in the quote that Hawthorne intends to show how evil Chillingworth has become by writing how he enjoys torturing Dimmesdale, and the more Dimmesdale hurts, the more fuel that is added to the motivation of Chillingworth torturing him. Hawthorne also shows how much turmoil that is going on with Roger Chillingworth by writing “This unhappy person” showing that Chillingworth is not at peace with himself. Ultimately Roger Chillingworth displays Hawthorne’s writings on what sin can do to the body, by showing how Dr. Chillingworth changes over time and how much worse he is going to become.

Hawthorne shows the effect of sin to the mind and body is through Hester Prynne. Hawthorne does this by showing how Hester has to take care and fight for Pearl, who is a physical reminder of her sin. This is seen on the scaffold when Hester is being punished for her sin by wearing an “A”. “Let her coren her mark a she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart” (Hawthorne 47). This quote is a prime example on how Hester feel about the sin of what she did, it is going to keep bothering her no matter what even if the colonists get over it. Hawthorne writes that Hester corens her mark, meaning that she modifies it, but Hester modifies it in a way that makes it stand out more. Hester does this by having it threaded in gold and other colorful colors. This shows that Hester owns up to her sin and is not afraid of it. This could be more present in when Hester is at the governor’s house to present her case that she can take care of Pearl. “She is my happiness!-she is my torture, none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life! Pearl punishes me too! (Hawthorne 101). The quote above shows how repeatedly Hester says that Pearl is her ‘punishment’. This is important because it shows how much Pearl changed Hester into a mother who sees her child as a physical mark of her sin. It also important to note that in the quote Hester says “she is my happiness”, this is a reflection on how she has grown to care for Pearl instead of casting her away like a bastard child. This shows how Hawthorne writes that Pearl is a physical reminder to Hester of her sin through these quotes and as well as how Pearl is her joy in her life. Leaving the reader with a clear understanding on not only what is Hester Prynne is thinking but also how she feels towards to Pearl.

Hidden sin affects all the people in the Scarlet letter, but the people that it affects the most is Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth, and Hester Prynne. In today’s time readers can see the effect of hidden sin most prevalent in politics. This is because there are many politicians that are in high power but get corrupted just like Arthur Dimmesdale and cannot or will not come out and admit their wrong doing. Another reason is that innocent people get caught in the crossfire such as Hester Prynne, who had to deal with the consequences alone just like the Vietnam War when they sent soldiers to fight a war that was not needed. This is how Nathaniel Hawthorne lesson can be viewed in modern times.

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Analysis of Hidden Sin in the Scarlet Letter. (2019, Jan 09). Retrieved from