Hypocrisy in "The Scarlet Letter" by Hawthorne

Essay by Cyan BloodbaneHigh School, 11th gradeA+, October 1996

download word file, 5 pages 3.5 1 reviews

Downloaded 93 times

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...