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The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter presents several ideas concerning the human condition, particularly the impact of sin on an individual, a persons' private life and their public one, and the nature of identity. The consequences of sin is presented in two ways, the open humiliation, exclusion, and ridicule Hester Prynne endures, and the silent suffering the town priest Arthur Dimmsdale creates for himself as a result of their affair, allowing the reader to view the consequences of the same sin for two different individuals, who accept their sin to different degrees. Setting, namely the forest, and night working together to reveal the private lives of the characters, while light, and the town sees the characters present a version of themselves that is deemed acceptable by society- in Dimmsdales' case, one which is a lie- elucidates human nature, and the accepted division between the public persona and the private truths. Then there is the scarlet letter itself, which serves as a part of Hester's identity, and although society attempts to use it to hold power over her, Hester manages to make it her own, allowing it to become a part of who she is, not what society wants her to be.

Hawthorne explores how sin is an integral part of being human in the novel, shown through multiple characters, and their development when coming to terms with how their sin is a part of them. Dimmsdale chooses to bear his sin quietly, and suffers greatly because of it, presenting himself as a man of God to the people, whilst harbouring the same sin they persecute Hester for daily. This guilt however enables him to write amazing, powerful sermons; he is incredibly in touch with the sinners, and his "heart vibrate[s] in unison with theirs." The guilt the reverend has is seen very early in the book; the reverend feels remorse, urging Hester to reveal the truth about her lover so he too could stand, "on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life." This demonstrates that soon after their affair, Dimmsdale is already guilt-ridden, and realises that it is preferable to wear the sin publicly like Hester, than to suffer within. He comes to understand more than anyone in the colony what it is like to be human through his sin, like Adam and Eve learning about their humanity through original sin. Hester's sin too grants her a, "passport into regions where other women dared not tread," where she can examine herself and society far more 'boldly' than she dared before, gaining knowledge from her sin that no-one else has. Hester and Dimmsdale both grow and learn as a result of their sin, however Hester suffers for it in a far more rewarding manner, eventually earning back respect from the town who suggests she remove the letter, ready to let go of her sin, while Dimmsdale will be haunted by his till his death. Hawthorne presents the two options humans have when dealing with sin, and essentially warns the reader against Dimmsdale' internal suffering, his death is a peaceful ending, fittingly on the scaffold where he can be at peace, his sin revealed to all.

The settings in the novel are used to present to the reader the contrast between what society deems acceptable, and what occurs in private, away from the public eye. The forest in the novel comes to represent a kind of retreat from the town, as Hester and Dimmsdale both find themselves able to express themselves more freely while they are there, away from the judgement of society- their reunion 7 years on occurs there. This freedom is seen also when Dimmsdale climbs the scaffold at night, concealed by the darkness, he is able to be himself up on the scaffold,



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