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 aby.
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 t, 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 o 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, e 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, nd 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.