Hypocrisy in the Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorn (1804-1864) is a fiction that tells a typical puritan story of sin, self-destructive feeling of concealed guilt, and the mortal conflict between good and evil in human nature. Desire of revenge, feeling of repentance, and distress of living of a life with identity crisis are some of the other theme of the story. But the most important theme of the novel that hooks the attention of the readers is duality of human heart. The Scarlet Letter is full of duality; every character is, in some degree, has duality.

The townspeople and officials are because of their views of Hester and how they treat her. The main characters that will be discussed in this paper are prime examples of duality. The people that they are and the people that they become through the circumstances of their situations show this. Although adultery is discussed and condemned by the townspeople and the effects of the sin are evident, this is not the main focus of the book. The analysis of the main characters of The Scarlet Letter and their situations and how they tie into the overall theme of the story shows that Hawthorne is focusing on duality rather than on adultery.

This very novel explains the symbiotic functions of the human heart that fluctuates and deteriorates in accordance with various situations. This book clarifies that duality, a human trait inherent in human heart. If you have a look on the major characters of The Scarlet Letter, we will get the clear picture of the duality, works in them. Aims and Objectives Present study, however, aims to find out the infallible truth about human heart which is a blend of evil and good prevalent in Nathaniel Hawthorn’s The Scarlet Letter. Duality is inherent in all mankind. That is why man’s nature – his way of life is packed with duality.

For this duality he has got two lives- private and public. In my discussion I have attempted to find out duality i. e. inside and outside of major characters and here lies the significance of this study. Because many critics have endevoured to research on different sides of the novel such as public life and private life, allusion and symbolism, plot, structure and setting and so on but no one has hooked attention to what I am going to find out. Literature Review A number of critics and authors have attempted to explain the duality prevalent in the hearts of all major characters of The Scarlet Letter.

They refer to same phenomenon using different word, which is hypocrisy. Kenneth Marc Harris(1980) writes about Hester Prynne in different pages of his Hypocrisy and Self-Deception in Hawthorne’s Fiction and rationally highlights the pattern of duality works in her heart. He even condemns her for causing trouble on other major characters, though she seems to be innocent: Not only must she struggle not to lose faith in her fellow mortals in the abstract, but as her hypocrisy deepens we sense in her a growing mistrust for the only individuals toward whom she might be expected to feel sympathy and understanding(Harris 61).”

“Hester projects her own hypocrisy onto others, including Dimmesdale. She doesn’t trust him because she doesn’t trust herself. (Harris 62). George B Loring(1850) also focuses on the duality of Hester Prynne using the word hypocrisy in his Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. He propagates that her fall into hypocrisy, though not excusable, is understandable psychologically in terms of constraints placed upon the development of her personality. Marcus Cunliff calls Hester “the voluptuous and maternal woman, expiating her offence, survives to a tranquil old age”(102) in his The Literature of the United States.

About the in-born duality of Dimmesdale, the good looking minister who pretends to be gentle, George B Loring further explains that his duality, which he implicates by the word hypocrisy, stems from his education. His education abets him in doing such bed job like adultery so manipulatively and shrewdly: His delicate sensibilities, his fervor, his influence on those about him, and above all, his sin, committed when the tides of his heart rushed in and swept away all the bulrush barriers he had heaped up against them, through the years of studious self-discipline, show what a spirit, what forces, he had.

Against none of these forces had he sinned. And yet he was halting, and wavering, and becoming more and more perplexed and worn down with woe, because he had violated the dignity of his position and had broken a law which his education hadmade more prominent than any other law in his own soul (Loring 155). Claudia D Johnson (1981) upholds the duality of Dimmesdale and his ill motive in his The Productive Tension of Hawthorne’s Art, “He rationalizes his every failure, with some reference to his need to be an effective minister” (Johnson 63).

Kenneth Marc Harris accuses Dimmesdale as a man of dual character under the mask of holiness. Harris lays importance on the multi-faceted aspects of Dimmesdale. Mr. Dimmesdale is a saintly minister who, through his sermons and good nature, has won the hearts of his parishioners. He is a good man, but he is fearful of ruining his saintly image by letting out his guilty secret: With Dimmesdale in particular, the ontological question itselfbecomes amoral issue, as the real Dimmesdale can finally be characterized as neither a hypocriteor nor as a saint, unless he can be somehow seen as both (Harris 58).

Roger Chilingworth, the villain of the novel, is a perfect example of dual hearted man who under the pretext of friend to Dimmesdale endevours to sort out the secret of adultery and thus pricking the couple. He even applies some artifices to discover the seducer of his wife while he keeps himself far from wife. It is increasingly stubbing that he is searching for seducer just to stigmatize her and her seducer without caring enough about his step-daughter. Claudia D Johnson emphasizes on his artifice of being physician to bring out the secret and pricking Dimmesdale’s conscience.

“Chillingworth maniacally uses his skill as a physician to probe, control, and otherwise torture the ailing Dimmesdale (Johnson 63). ” We, here, observe that foregoing authors and critics’ comments have something in common with the aims and objectives of my paper. While they focus only on the evil side of the major characters, my target is to examine the good side and the evil side one by one in-built in them. Hester Prynne, the protagonist of the novel, can be taken first to visualize the inner parts of her heart.

Unlike foregoing authors it occurs to me also that though seemingly Hester Prynne is guilty of adultery she is more guilty of hypocrisy, duality works in her heart which is a common trait of human being. Hester is a strong woman; she takes the burden that her sinfulness has placed upon her. The other women of the community seem to be jealous of her great beauty. She embroiders the “A” that she must wear which makes it seem as though it is not a symbol of punishment, but some award that sits upon her chest.

She loves Dimmesdale by heart but she says nothing while for seven years Dimmesdale is slowly tortured. This love she felt that was so strong, that it made her break sacred vows. Why else would she condemn her supposed love to the hands of her vengeful husband? Dimmesdale is continually tortured by his inner demons of guilt that gnaw at his soul, and Chillingworth makes sure these demons never go away. And this is Hester who allows this to take place. As time passes, the minister begins to weaken slowly, physically and mentally.

He becomes emaciated, and he punishes himself constantly. Hester comes to know that if Chillingworth is allowed to continue his malicious job, Dimmesdale will surely go insane and only then she reveals her secret. Hester’s prolonged wait to reveal the truth is totally hypocritical. She did not reveal who her lover was on the scaffolding when she had the perfect opportunity to. Also, she did not tell her husband who her lover was. We observe that Hester Prynne keep secrets that causes mental suppression to everyone.

Hester can atone for her sin of adultery, but every day that she keeps the secret of her lover, and the true identity of Rodger Chillingworth a secret she is committing a sin that shows duality of her mind. Everyone Hester Prynne loves, she does in a hypocritical way. She loves Pearl enough to sacrifice to feed and clothe her, but she does not love Pearl enough to give her a father. Hester loves Dimmesdale, but she does not love him enough to expose his sin publicly, and she conceals her knowledge of Chillingworth. Dimmesdale, the minister, is a good man in the eyes of public.

He is a churchman who preaches sermons to public. He advises people not to be engaged in anything that defy the command of god. But actually he himself poses the thread of defying god’s command. He is a good man, but he is fearful of ruining his saintly image by letting out his guilty secret. On Election Day, however, Dimmesdale finally does reveal his hidden sin, but he does so at his dying moment to absolve his soul not because he is a strong man. Were he a strong man, he would have come forward with his secret rather than allowing it to slowly destroy him.

Mr. Dimmesdale was weakening more each day because of the guilt that he had inside of his heart. Hawthorne(1986) shows this throughout the story by Mr. Dimmesdale’s constant habit of putting his hand to his heart: Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; 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, that to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do for him except it tempt him-yea, compel him, as it were- to add hypocrisy to sin? (Hawthorne 63)

In this appeal from Dimmesdale to Hester while she is on the scaffold, much is said about Dimmesdale. Even though he is pleading to Hester to give the name of her fellow sinner, he doesn’t really want her to reveal his identity. But he himself gives the consequence of his silence and therefore reveals his evil side of the heart while he pretends to be innocent guy in public. He hides behind his public self. Dimmesdale himself sees his ugly inner self through his many long examinations in front of the mirror.

This insight further intensifies his ill condition and insanity. But when he runs out to the scaffold that night he is still concerned with his saintly image somewhat because he just meekly stand s there as his fellow minister passes by instead of letting his presence be known. Roger Chilingworth is the last character that will be discussed in the context of duality. He is first shown to us as a scholarly man who is physically deformed. He has a scientific and inquisitive nature, and he deals with herbs and thins making medicines.

He is introduced as the physician. Chillingworth and Dimmesdale become friends and eventually, because of the urge of Dimmesdale’s friends, come to live in the same house. For the artifice and duality of Roger Chilingworth, Hawthorne castigates him and shows his inner pattern of the heart through his deformity: Roger Chilingworth’s aspect had undergone a remarkable change while he had dwelt in the town, and especially since his adobe with Mr. Dimmesdale. At first his expression had been calm, meditative, scholar like.

Now, there was something ugly and evil in his face, which they had not previously noticed, and which grew still more obvious to sight the oftener they looked upon him(Hawthorne 117). Further Hawthorne writes: Yet Dimmesdale would perhaps have seen this individual’s character more perfectly, if a certain morbidness, to which sick hearts are liable, had not rendered him suspicious of all mankind. Trusting no man as his friend, he could not recognize his enemy when the latter actually appeared (Hawthorne 120). These two passages from the text summarize the harmful aspects of their relationship.

Chillingworth is not a friend but a dangerous fiend and Dimmesdale is subject to his torture because the torture that he has already inflicted upon himself doesn’t allow him to see what is happening. Chillingworth is a hypocrite because he believes that he is right in mentally torturing and killing Dimmesdale. He doesn’t think any of the evil things he has done are wrong. He still thinks that he is a scholarly man, but he is really an evil man who has lost his old ways along with his mind. Conclusion Duality in human hearts is inherent. People behave privately in one way and in pubic different way.

By nature people get this duality. Throughout my discussion it is clear that all sorts of people regardless of good and bad possess two distinctive sides of their heart. In public life, all the major characters of the novel are seemingly good. But in private life, they are totally different and have got their own way of life. I think, however, my paper has proven my title true that highlights the duality in human hearts in Puritan society, more generally in the hearts of all people that make up the society.

Works Cited

  • Cunliff, Marcus. The Literature of the United States. London: Penguin Books, 1954. Print.
  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Bantam Books, 1986. Print.
  • Harris, Kenneth Marc. Hypocrisy and Self-Deception in Hawthorne’s Fiction. Charlottesville: Charlottesville University Press, 1988. Print.
  • Johnson, Claudia D. The Productive Tension of Hawthorne’s Art. Atlanta: The University of Atlanta Press, 1981.
  • Loring, George B. Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. New York: University Press of Virginia, 1961. Print.
  • Ruland, Richard, and Malcolm Bradbury. From Puritanism To Post-Modernism. USA: Penguin Books, 1996. Print.

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