The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is about the trials and
tribulations of Hester Prynne, a woman living in colonial Boston. Found
guilty of adultery, Hester's punishment is to wear a visible symbol of her sin:
the scarlet letter 'A.' Through the book, the reader comes to know Hester,
the adulteress; Dimmesdale, the holy man Hester had the affair with; and
Chillingworth, the estranged husband of Hester who is out for revenge. The
Scarlet Letter examines the interaction of these characters and the reaction
of these characters to Hester's sin. Although Hester's sin is at first supposed
to be adultery, in fact adultery is just one of the many bases Hawthorne
could use to build the story around. The underlying sin that Hawthorne
deals with in The Scarlet Letter is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the practice of
professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess. All
three main characters, Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth, commit the
sin of hypocrisy.
Hawthorne shows that hypocrisy is indeed a sin by
punishing the offenders.
Hester Prynne is a strong, independent woman who deals with her sin
of adultery very well. Instead of running away from it, she lives with it and
accepts her punishment. However, while succumbing to the will of the court,
she does not for an instant truly believe that she sinned. Hester thinks that
she has not committed adultery because in her mind she wasn't really
married to Chillingworth. Hester believes that marriage is only valid when
there is love, and there is no love between Hester and Chillingworth. In the
prison, defending her actions against him, she declares, 'Thou knowest, thou
knowest that I was frank with thee. I felt no love, nor feigned any' (74).
Then, later, speaking to Dimmesdale, Hester further imparts her belief...