One of the major themes in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is guilt. Guilt is a powerful emotion that can have a huge impact on a person’s life. It can lead to feelings of shame, anxiety, and even depression. When someone is guilty, they may feel like they are not good enough or worthy of love and respect. Guilt can also lead to a person isolating themselves from others out of fear of judgement.
In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her chest as punishment for committing adultery. This public shaming leads to Hester feeling immense guilt and shame. She becomes an outcast from society and is forced to live a life of isolation.
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, GUILT AND BLAME is a continuous theme. For example, the narrator says at one point in the book,” In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another… she took the baby on her arm and looked around haughtily at all of her townspeople and neighbours.” (Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Ed. Thomas R. Beasley and Richard Harter Fogle. Boston: Thomson Learning, Inc., 2002. Print)
This passage shows that Hester is not ashamed of her sin, but she is ashamed of the way her townspeople and neighbors will see her. Hawthorne also writes, “On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy” (Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Ed. Thomas R. Beasley and Richard Harter Fogle. Boston: Thomson Learning, Inc., 2002. Print).
This passage shows that the letter A is not only a symbol of sin and guilt, but it is also a symbol of Hester’s strength and ability to withstand the shame and condemnation of her townspeople.
The letter A was visible on the breast of her gown in fine crimson cloth, surrounded by an intricate embroidery and fantastic gold thread, indicating that despite Hester’s ability to accept responsibility for the towns’ destruction, it still upsets her.
“The doctor, Roger Chillingworth, added “Calm, gentle, passionless; though there was perhaps a quiet depth of malice latent in this unhappy old man which led him to imagine more intimate revenge than any living being had ever wreaked upon an adversary.” (Hawthorne 2). This means that even though Hester may take responsibility for the towns’ devastation, it still depresses her. The doctor Roger Chillingworth thinks: (Hawthorne 68).
Chillingworth is saying that even though he may look calm and gentle, he is really a very malicious person. These examples show how Hawthorne uses guilt and blame as themes in The Scarlet Letter.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a novel about sin, punishment, and redemption. Set in Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony during the 1640s, the book tells the story of Hester Prynne, a married woman who commits adultery and gives birth to a daughter out of wedlock. Hester is forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her chest as punishment for her crime. The novel explores the theme of guilt and its effects on the characters.
Guilt is a major theme in The Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne feels guilty for committing adultery and giving birth to a child out of wedlock. She is isolated from the community because of her sin. Hester’s husband, Roger Chillingworth, also feels guilty for his part in the affair. He turns to revenge when he learns that Hester has been unfaithful to him.
The effects of guilt are seen throughout the novel. Hester’s daughter, Pearl, is affected by her mother’s guilt. Pearl is ostracized by the other children in the community because of her mother’s sin. The Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale also suffers from guilt. He is the father of Pearl, but he does not publicly acknowledge his paternity. Dimmesdale’s guilt leads to his downfall.
Hawthorne uses the theme of guilt to explore the effects of sin on the characters in The Scarlet Letter.
To make himself the one trusted friend, to whom should be confided all the fear, the remorse, the agony ineffectual repentance and sinful thoughts that are forced out only to return again. All that hidden guilt and sorrow would be revealed to him the Pitiless, Unforgiving!
Such was the sole condition of pardon. It was in vain that Hester, with all the intensity of her strong nature, threw herself into the task of resolving the mysteries of the years that were gone. In vain she sought to determine whether Dimmesdale was alive or dead. Could it be that aught less than mortal had happened to him, she would assuredly have heard of it through those secret channels which always convey intelligence among women as speedily as lightning? But no tidings came. No messenger appeared on earth, nor any token from heaven!
The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other feet had trodden only with fear and trembling. Had she abandoned it, and taken up her child, and returned to her former mode of life, what would have been the consequence? She must either have died or been imprisoned. So long as she wore the scarlet letter, there was no danger that any other than a family secret should be disclosed.
But if she had once taken it off, her liberty would have been constrained by watchful eyes, so long accustomed to measuring its dimensions; and Red-letter days, on which it appeared in public, were rigidly required by grim custom. If even so much as the hem of the scarlet letter were to be seen beyond her bosom, it was sure to attract all eyes and set them questioning.
Thus Hester Prynne came to have a part to perform in the world. Heretofore, she had been as a creature driven and derided by the tempest. Now, she stood on solid ground, firm in her own resolution, and capable of regarding her fellow-mortals, even when they might be looking scornfully upon her.
The scarlet letter was not to be taken off, at least not yet. Perhaps, after all these years of daily wear and tear! who could tell? But Hester would never again feel quite alone in the world. She had borne her punishment through long and dreary years; and now that she was free from it outwardly, she still bore it with her inwardly. It might be that such were the only penance which Providence saw fit to inflict upon her. She would never again tempt it, by a repetition of her fault.