People live with lies every day. Everyone from the President of the United States to the poorest beggar in New York City has told a lie. White lies, gray lies, and plain old dirty fat lies are strewn forth every day like water from a fountain. The only true difference between them is the amount of guilt they place on the liar. If they feel guilt, then they suffer greatly throughout their lives, from lots of small indiscretions or just once large one. The majority of the people in this world have the ability to alleviate their guilt through some kind of penance, but for some that is not enough.
Anything they do can not repeal the feeling of guilt and the knowledge they did something wrong. People like this make themselves sick with worry and regret, and they often die of their disease: depression. Those people who do manage to drop their guilt become productive members of society again because they have reconnected with the rest of the human race. They dont deny their guilt or their crimes, they just acknowledge there are some things they cannot change, they can just try to make up for them.
In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne the decision of the characters to ither admit or hide the truth determines the quality of their lives. While Hester Pryne admits her sins and resolves them over time through her charity work, Arthur Dimmsdale bottles up his sins and, even though he physically tortures himself, cannot resolve his great misdeeds.. The first character to choose a path is Hester Pryne. While she did have a child when she hadnt seen her husband in over a year, (a dead giveaway) she could have easily fled the colony before the birth.
She instead stayed and faced her peers, and in that way she admitted her sin. To lee would have led her along a completely different path, one of denial. Hester didnt quite buy into all the Puritan ideals, but she knew adultery was a sin against God, it said so in the bible. Only the tremendous courage she had, and the large sense of righteousness in her blood kept her from fleeing. And she obviously believed that her form of penance, would be enough to gain her sanctity in the eyes of God, even though the Puritans held opposing beliefs: The Scarlet Letter explicitly declares the impossibility of redemption for the sinner. pg#) If you dont let the world share in your uilt, it will all be upon you, and only you. With the crushing weight of guilt she would have had she would not lived longer than those seven years. Even the Puritan people who openly despised her at the time she exposed her sin, eventually were won over by her vast charity work. They begin to associate the letter A with able, and not adultery. And all she accomplished was because she spoke the truth, and the truth wasnt really as bad as it looked.
Her husband was an old misshapen man who she had no love for. He had been gone for a long period of time, and maybe she believed that he was even dead. Her sin was remote and not completely justified in the morals of these modern times, and she grasped that even then. The author Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote it best: Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred. (242) If all the people know your worst, only then can they begin to work through that and begin to see your best.
If all they see is the good side of you, then you are holding back from them, lying to them. Only when you show both sides do you begin to gain penance, and that is exactly what Hester Pryne did. While Hester Pryne gained freedom from her guilt, Dimmsdales failure to admit his crime slowly destroyed his life. Dimmsdale never confessed his sin, even though he was given numerous opportunities. And, like Chillingsworth said at the end of the book, a confession would have ended Chillingsworths evil prematurely: There was no place where thou couldst have escaped me! 236) In an obvious parallel to Hesters stout and quick admittance, Dimmsdale is the contradiction: he suffers great agony and fails to admit his sin until minutes before his death (a cowardly way out). His great Puritanical beliefs left him o recourse really: one of the main faults of Puritanism (and most Protestantism) is the lack of a way to cleanse yourself of sins: there is no described way to lay down your guilt. While Hester suffered those seven years with the townspeople united against her, Dimmsdale gained prestige and fame due to his great preaching.
He led wondrously moving sermons on honesty and the fate of those who did not come clean with God. The horribly ironic thing is that this would have gained him penance in our time: many former drug addicts make their living giving motivational lectures to roups pleading with them not to make the same mistakes. The only difference is the same one at the roots of all Dimmsdales problems: these drug users were all admitted junkies. Dimmsdale wasnt, and that just made him a gigantic hypocrite.
Instead Dimmsdale spent seven long years with a horrible secret burning in his heart, and later his chest. He used a bloody scourge to inflict a hideous wound upon himself in a misguided attempt to gain penance: Some affirmed that the Reverend Mr. Dimmsdale had begun a course of penance: which he afterwards, in so many futile methods, followed out- by inflicting a hideous torture on himself. 240) The key word in that quote is futile; the theme of his denial cannot be emphasized enough. All of his hidden sin also allowed one Mr. Chillingsworth to take advantage of him.
Why the effect of the medicines that Chillingsworth gave to Mr. Dimmsdale are never mentioned in the book (and highly debated even now) I firmly believe that they are what kept him alive those seven years. The only thing worse than horrible suffering leading to an early death is long, drawn out horrible suffering leading to death. And Hawthorne pulled no punches in describing the quality of life that Dimmsdale enjoyed: Hawthornes portrait of the twistings and windings of a guilty conscience is finely observed and vividly rendered. pg#) Truly Hawthorne must have had some horrible insight into a guilty conscience sometime during his life, or he just really disagreed with every single principle of Puritanism (maybe both). Truly, (no pun intended) Dimmdales failure to live honestly witch ravaged the quality of his life. Hester Prynes life of charity and honesty, blurred only with her great sin, ended with the love of her daughter and her ultimate forgivance. Dimmsdales life of dishonesty and hypocrisy led him down a winding piral of despair and depression with only a meager attempt at forgiveness near the end of his life.
The decision of the characters in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne to either admit or hide the absolute truths in their lives determined the quality of their lives. The guilty in this world will always have a choice, no matter how difficult it is. They can take Hesters route: admit their sins and strive the rest of their lives to gain forgiveness. Or they can take Dimmsdales route: Repress their sins and forever live with that awful feeling at the bottom of your stomach that the guilty have.