Secret Scarlet Secrets as the Primary Destructive Thesis

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Secret Scarlet

Secrets as the Primary Destructive Force in the Scarlet Letter

Many of Nathaniel Hawthorne's works are set in the time of the Puritan colonies that existed in Massachusetts and other parts of New England a century and more before the United States was formed. Looking back on these days from his nineteenth-century perspective, Hawthorne was able to discern and to interpret many things about the general way of life in the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the various townships and cities that grew out of it. This includes practical and physical details about the ways people lived their lives, of course, but more importantly Hawthorne was able to see the ways in which communities functioned, and how individuals might be identified and defined in the framework of Puritan society. It is Hawthorne's ability to not only understand but to clearly render human motives, intentions, and feelings that allows him to bring Puritan culture to life.

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This is precisely what the author accomplishes in The Scarlet Letter, one of Hawthorne's most well-known and well-loved works. The novel contains many themes that were essential to the Puritan's in both the long-term and in the their everyday lives; chief among these are the concepts of sin and redemption. The nature of each of these concepts, as it was understood by the Puritan community and as it is understood in the human heart, are fully explored in this book, with what are perhaps some surprising conclusions. Hawthorne manages to pit the individual against the established beliefs of the community, especially regarding sin, and shows the triumphant rise and redemption of characters through means that would be unexpected and perhaps heavily questioned by the Puritan mindset.

Thesis on Secret Scarlet Secrets as the Primary Destructive Assignment

Specifically, Hawthorne takes issue with the very notion of sin -- what it consists of, and what it leads to. Sin was and is seen as a destructive force by much of the world, almost by definition. Certainly, the community in Puritan Boston sees Hester Prynne's sin of adultery as a destructive act, and one warranting further destruction wrought by the townspeople against Hester as punishment. Through the course of the novel, however, the various characters' interactions with sin and redemption reveal a very different understanding of these concepts at work in The Scarlet Letter. It is not sin itself, but rather the secrecy of sin, that causes destruction in the novel, which can clearly be seen by the three characters most prominent n the work: Mr. Chillingworth, Reverend Dimmesdale, and Hester Prynne.

Mr. Chillingworth

Hester's husband, the character known as Roger Chillingworth throughout the novel, is free from the major sin around which the action of the novel centers, that is, Hester's adultery. He acknowledges that he sinned in when he "betrayed her] budding youth into a false an unnatural relation with [his own] decay," but as he has placed this in the open it no longer wears on him in a destructive manner (Hawthorne 52). If sin were the primary destructive force in the novel, then, Chillingworth would have no reason to begin his descent into destruction, as he does. He sins again in his anger and his desire for revenge against the at-first unknown man with whom Hester committed her sin, but even this is not the primary reason for his downfall. Instead, it is his intense and planned secrecy that is to blame.

After telling Hester of his plot to remain in Boston without revealing his real identity or his relationship with Hester, Chillingworth has her promise not to reveal his secret, She asks if he is the Devil or "Black Man" and has made a bargain for her soul, to which he replies, "Not thy soul...No, not thine" (Hawthorne 52). Chillingworth is, of course, thinking of the soul of the man responsible for Hester's pregnancy -- Dimmesdale, though he doesn't know this at the time -- but this is truly a foreshadowing of the destruction of his own soul. Immediately after making this decision to keep his true motives, intentions, and even identity secret, then, Hawthorne gives a telling glimpse of the ultimate doom that this will lead to, not for Hester or even for Dimmesdale, but for Chillingworth himself. In determining to keep his revenge a secret affair, Chillingworth keeps himself from seeing the truth about the consequences of his actions and sins. Had he openly declared his anger, the novel quite simply would not have progressed as it does; Chillingworth's secret is the key to his own destruction and the development of the plot.

This fact is made explicit late in the novel, after Hester has revealed Chillingworth's real identity to Dimmesdale and told Chillingworth that the ruse must end. In response to Dimmesdale's worries, Hester says, "There is a strange secrecy in his nature...and it has grown upon him by the hidden practices of his revenge" (Hawthorne 134). Instead of ever acknowledging his wrongdoing, or even openly expressing the contempt, anger, and jealousy that he feels towards Hester and Dimmesdale, Chillingworth will keep his secrets buried within himself for the rest of his life, subjecting himself to misery and ultimately his physical and spiritual destruction because of this. It is his refusal to acknowledge his sins and his true person that condemns him and bars him from redemption.

Reverend Dimmesdale

Chillingworth's character, though still well rounded, is rather simple as seen in the action of the novel. There is a singularity to his purpose, and his certainty regarding the righteousness of his actions rarely shows any sense of doubt. Reverend Dimmesdale is quite the opposite in terms of both his doubt and his complexity. Throughout the novel, he is plagued with doubt regarding his own goodness, his sin, his possibilities of redemption, and the correct course of action. His near-constant doubt allows for a much more complex and essential transition to take place in Dimmesdale's character when compared to that which occurs with Chillingworth; Dimmesdale takes a path from secrecy to truth that clearly shows that secrecy rather than sin is the major destructive force in the novel.

Hester's public appearance early in the novel, where she is again questioned regarding the identity of Pearl's father, suggests the destructive power of the secret Dimmesdale holds throughout most of The Scarlet Letter. This is seen quite poignantly in the speech that Reverend Dimmesdale delivers to Hester in front of the gathered crowd, exhorting her to reveal the identity -- his own -- of the accomplice in this crime: "Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life" (Hawthorne 47). Dimmesdale, then, already realizes that bearing this secret is giving him far greater torture than the sin itself or his acknowledgment of it ever could; he is simply to weak to act on this knowledge.

It is significant that Hester refuses to act for him, as well. Later in the same scene, Hester says before the crowd, but to Dimmesdale, that she wishes she could bear the unnamed-Dimmesdale's agony as well as her own, yet she refuses to alleviate his burden by giving his name. This is a deeper commentary on the nature of secrecy and its relationship to sin and destruction that has not yet been mentioned -- the concepts of strength and weakness. There is a strength in being able to acknowledge sin, and it is in many ways this strength that enables certain characters to avoid destruction. Hester, as shall be shown, does not initially possess this strength, but it is her acquiring of it that ultimately saves and redeems her. Just so, it is Dimmesdale's finally-found strength that allows him to find his own redemption.

Reverend Dimmesdale, it is noted, never looked as strong or s confident as he did during the procession prior to his public revelation of his past sin. This strength comes from his plan with Hester to leave for anew place where they will not be known, but it is what allows him to ultimately mount the scaffold amidst the crowd and reveal his sin for all to see. Dimmesdale is aware of his impending death, and uses the last of his resolve to find redemption, which is given in the form of Pearl's kiss. His death following his confession is not a destruction, then, but a salvation; had he died with the sin still unacknowledged and weighing on his heart, he would never have ascended to heaven. As it is, though, his acknowledgment of his sin led to his escape from Chillingworth's clutches, and the acceptance not only of Hester, but also h=of his daughter, Pearl. The fact that pearl need not live with any secrets anymore is he ultimate act of salvation for Dimmesdale.

Hester Prynne

The central character in the novel is, of course, Hester Prynne. Though she… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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