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Sin And Revenge: The Scarlet Letter - Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1020 words Published: 12th Apr 2017

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The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, contains many instances of characters sinning. From Hesters adultery to Mistress Hibbins witchcraft, sin is a major theme of the novel. Two main characters stick out when considering who sins the most in the novel: Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth. Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale is an idol in the community. Everyone loves him because he is a fine man and an intelligent reverend. But, the reverend does have issues he is hiding: Dimmesdale is Hester’s secret lover and father of her child, pearl. On the other hand, Roger Chillingworth is an intelligent scholar who was Hester’s original husband. Chillingworth stays behind when Hester travels to America, and when he arrives in America, he finds out that Hester had an affair. He is eager to figure out who her adulterer is and seeks revenge on that person. So the question remains: Who is the bigger sinner?

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On one hand, Dimmesdale is considered the bigger sinner. He commits a sin that is the biggest felony in the Puritan society: adultery, punishable by death. Not only does he commit the sin, he does not repent of it and keeps it hidden. Dimmesdale is a preacher who is supposed to be clean of all sin and very moral. He frequently preaches to his congregation about repentance and coming clean of secret sin even though he, himself, does not practice it. Dimmesdale is a hypocrite and he literally does not practice what he preaches. He is very aware of the fact that he is a hypocrite and instead of practicing what he preaches, Dimmesdale validates his behavior. In chapter eleven Dimmesdale tries to confess. “Would not the people start up in their seats, by a simultaneous impulse, and tear him down out of the pulpit which he defiled? Not so, indeed! They heard it all, and did but reverence him the more. They little guessed what deadly purport lurked in those self-condemning words. “The godly youth!” said they among themselves. “The saint on earth!” Even though he confesses, he was not detailed enough to be believed. The people keep thinking that he is a diving and morally sound person. In chapter fifteen, Hester Prynne weighs in on the situation of who is the bigger sinner. “Be it sin or no,” said Hester Prynne bitterly, as she still gazed after him, “I hate the man!” […] “Yes, I hate him!” repeated Hester, more bitterly than before. “He betrayed me! He has done me worse wrong than I did him!” As seen in this passage, Hester thinks that Dimmesdale’s sin is the greatest of all the sins in the novel. Chillingworth also weighs in on the situation in chapter fourteen: “What choice had you?” asked Roger Chillingworth. “My finger, pointed at this man, would have hurled him from his pulpit into a dungeon, -thence, peradventure, to the gallows!” Here Chillingworth says that Hester’s “lover” should be killed for what he did, implying that Dimmesdale’s sin was greater than his own. To some extent this is true but, Chillingworth’s own sins need to be taken into account.

On the other hand, Chillingworth is considered to be the bigger sinner because of the quantity of sin, the importance of the sin and the amount of responsibility felt for the sin. In chapter seventeen Dimmesdale even states so. “We are not, Hester, the worst sinners in the world. There is one worse than even the polluted priest! That old man’s revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester, never did so!” Dimmesdale says that the revenge that Chillingworth gives him is blacker than his own sin.

First of all, the number of times that Chillingworth sins outweigh all of the other characters sins combined. Chillingworth repeatedly attacks Dimmesdale with emotional and mental torment with his constant questioning and desire for revenge. As seen in chapter eleven, Chillingworth will stop at nothing for revenge. “…which led him to imagine a more intimate revenge than any mortal had ever wreaked upon an enemy.” In this passage, Chillingworth formulate a kind of revenge that is more aggressive than any other human being has ever formulated. He sins again and again by giving Dimmesdale what is thought to be remedies for his aliments but are really diminishing his health. Chillingworth sins so much that later in the novel he achieves the status of the devil.

Secondly, his sin is way more important and significant than that of other characters in the novel. On one hand, Hester Prynne’s adultery is seen as means for death in the Puritan society’s eyes. On the other hand, Chillingworth’s repeated attacks on Dimmesdale create the huge false impression of vivid “evil.” The severity of Chillingworth’s sin is also seen when he transforms from a physician to Dimmesdale into a devil.

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Thirdly, Chillingworth feels almost no remorse about his sin compared to the other characters. Dimmesdale and Hester both feel great remorse for their sin and the suffering from Dimmesdale’s sin outweighs suffering from his sin. On the other hand, Chillingworth displayed no remorse throughout the entire novel. For example, in chapter fourteen, we see no remorse whatsoever. “What evil have I done the man?” asked Roger Chillingworth again. Here, Chillingworth refuses to recognize his guilt in demolishing another person’s soul.

Both main characters in The Scarlet Letter have great amounts of sin and wrong doings. Dimmesdale is the bigger sin because he committed adultery which is a capital offence in the Puritan society. But, if not looking though Puritan eyes, Chillingworth is the bigger sinner because of the quantity of his sin, the importance of his sin and the amount of responsibility he felt for his sin. Dimmesdale concludes in chapter twenty-three: “Thou [Chillingworth], too, hast deeply sinned.” Dimmesdale is correct.


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