The Scarlet Letter consisted of several cases of characters suffering in different ways. Nathanial Hawthorne let none of his characters get away with anything easily. Read to find out more.
Nathanial Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” was an epic novel that revolved around a lot of different types of suffering. Many characters throughout the story are suffering and not one of these various sufferings are the same as the next. For instance, although Hester and Dimmesdale were burdened with the same sin, they didn’t suffer the same way. Hester had to be publicly humiliated every day of her life with two visual representations of her sin, her scarlet letter and her infant Pearl. Dimmesdale on the other hand, was not suffering publicly. However, on top of the guilt building from being an adulterer and leaving his lover out to dry by not confessing, he was secretly tortured even as a sick man. Dimmesdale’s suffering was immensely impacted by Robert Chillingworth. Robert Chillingworth was the doctor of Boston during the setting of the story. When Dimmesdale fell ill, he moved in with the Chillingworth so the doctor could “take care of him.” The doctor had another thing in mind completely however. He had a funny feeling about the minister Dimmesdale and wanted to exploit it. Chillingworth, being the husband of Hester wanted desperately to know who her secret lover was so that he could get his revenge. He wanted vengeance for Dimmesdale and was going to do whatever he could to make his suffering immense and humiliating. Once Chillingworth had revealed the minister’s chest while he was sleeping and seen the “red mark” on his breast he knew for sure that Dimmesdale was the missing piece of this adultery case. He was sickly excited for his finding and now he was going to make Dimmesdale’s life a living hell.
In my opinion, Dimmesdale was the better man of the whole situation. Although at first it may have seemed like the minister was holding out on Hester and just keeping himself safe, he had higher intentions than that. Dimmesdale indeed did love Hester and was simply waiting for a good time to show it. This led to even more suffering for Hester because she was alone in her ordeal. She had to face her guilt on her own and had no one to fall back on. After the visit in the woods between Hester and Dimmesdale, I finally realized that Dimmesdale wasn’t such a bad man after all. If Dimmesdale had confessed right away, or if Hester had ratted him out, they would never have the opportunity to happy together again. The two adulterers would forever be known as sinners and on top of that, the minister would have lost all of the respect he worked hard to have. Dimmesdale did seem very shallow at first, but no doubt over time he proved himself to be an honest man; especially with his confession at the ending of the story. He was definitely more truthful than Chillingworth ever was. Chillingworth was a pathetic man who was living only to torture Dimmesdale. This was proven true at the end of the novel when the doctor dies shortly after Dimmesdale does. Once the minister had died, Chillingworth had no reason to live because he could never fulfill his revenge. He had never told anyone about what he had been doing. He just secretly tortured the man that everyone looked up to while they all thought the doctor was trying to make him get better. He wasn’t trying to make him better, but he did not want him to be dead. He wanted to keep him right above death so that he suffered for a very long time. When Dimmesdale dies at the end of the novel, Chillingworth screams, “Thou hast escaped me!” He was not relieved whatsoever that Dimmesdale had died. Dimmesdale had died like a noble man. He made his confession and died with no burdens. Chillingworth on the other hand, died an empty and meaningless man. He never told anyone about the sin he was committing. Vengeance was known as one of the worst sins you could ever commit and Chillingworth was living for vengeance. For this reason, I thought Chillingworth was by far a worse man than Dimmesdale was. Dimmesdale died a relinquished and free spirited man. Chillingworth died as a sinner and a dishonest person. He was incredibly corrupted; he lived only for personal gain. I was shocked when I found out that so soon after Dimmesdale had died Chillingworth died as well. I couldn’t believe that the only reason he had been living was so he could get his revenge on Dimmesdale. He was immoral and secretive. No one knew him and no one really knew of him either. The only reason he had been accepted as the doctor of the town was because he had spent time with Native Americans and knew how to use medicines very well. I believe that if Chillingworth had been questioned once by any of the members of the town he would have been figured out as a bad man rather then the simple doctor everyone thought he was. I think that if people had began to question him, they would find out the terrible sins he was committing everyday on Dimmesdale as well as the fact that he was the husband of Hester. Although figuring out Chillingworth seems like it should have been so easy and the whole time as I was reading the book, I was getting annoyed that the people of the town were so stupid, in the end I was very happy that the people never figured out Chillingworth. It makes me feel better that he died as a pathetic unaccomplished man. He may not have had any public humiliation, but he died as sad a man as anyone ever could.
I believe that if these two men, Dimmesdale and Chillingworth, were to be evaluated by who is less principled under the eyes of God, there would not be an easy decision to make. Both of these men proved themselves to be sinners and men of greed. Dimmesdale never confessed his sin, didn’t support his family, and was the minister of an entire city. Many people would expect more of a minister and a person as respected as he is. However, he did confess his sins which proved him to be loyal to God and therefore, principled. Chillingworth was a seeker of vengeance on Dimmesdale for the sin he had committed with Hester. Chillingworth, like Dimmesdale was very secretive about his sin, however he never confesses his sin or even speaks of his torturing Dimmesdale to anyone at all not even before death. If Chillingworth had confessed his sin at all, even if he didn’t get the courage until right before his death, then I would say that neither Dimmesdale nor Chillingworth was more principled. However, because Dimmesdale confessed and had good intentions, I strongly believe he would be chosen by God as more principled and he would definitely have a higher chance of spending his afterlife in Heaven. He was a noble man who cared about Hester and his daughter Pearl. He confessed his sin which proves that he cared about what God thought of him and wanted to replenish himself before he died so that although on Earth he may no longer be respected, he could be a happier man in his “afterlife.”
The way people judge and are judged in society today is very different compared to how it was back in the timeline of this story. For instance, religion is huge in “The Scarlet Letter.” Everything is based around the strict rules and precedents of religion. There is practically no separation between church and state. When people stepped outside of these rules just for a moment, it can be the end of their religious lives. They would forever be known as a sinner and sadly with the Puritan views, even with confession they could never make up for the sins that they had committed. Back in the 18th century, people had to be careful of what they did as well as what they said. They had to be sure that they were doing the right thing all of the time. Although some might think that this would lead to an ideal lifestyle where you could feel safe all of the time, it was actually quite dangerous and people had to live without the basic rights that are stressed in the society of America today. This was proven in the novel in many ways. For instance, Hester had sex with a man even though she was already married. In American society today, people calling this adultery would be seen as an exaggeration. They would call it “cheating” on someone instead. This does not necessarily mean that in today’s society cheating on someone is no big deal. People who cheat on their spouses in nowadays are indeed looked down upon. However, the consequences are a usually merely being less respected; not nearly as severe as the consequences they would have received if they lived in the setting of “The Scarlet Letter.” Hester could have been killed for her sin if the people of her city knew whether or not her husband was alive. The only reason she lived was because no one had seen her husband before and they didn’t know if he had been killed or if he was still planning on joining the colony. In this way, life was not as safe in the 18th century as it was today because although you would think that everyone would follow the rules and things would be good, if you didn’t follow those rules for a second you could be dead.
I believe that we are dealing with two extremes when we compare and contrast how people were judged in the 18th century and how people are judged in present day America. In the 18th century, there was no separation of church and state. If you committed a sin that meant you broke a law and there would be various punishments depending on the severity of your sin. People had to be extremely careful with their actions and they did not have many rights such as freedom of speech at all. Back then people were judged strictly on morals and how the person is as a person with no exceptions. Today however, we are judged completely different. If the 18th century was the most extreme form of judgment, today’s society would be the least extreme. People are rarely judged based on the type of person they are. Religion is not nearly as strict anymore due to the separation of church and state. Today people are judged based on how much money they make, their physical appearance, who they hang out with, what they wear, and many other things that deep down really has no significance in life. I think people should be judged on how they are as a person and how they treat other people around them. I believe if people could work together to find a median between the setting of “The Scarlet Letter” and today’s society, that would be an ideal place for people to live and be happy.