The Scarlet Letter: Theme

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade March 2002

download word file, 2 pages 0.0

A major theme in the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is the consequence of sin is alienation. The alienation may be physical, spiritual, or emotional. The theme is expressed in three characters: Hester Prynne, Reverand Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth. Each person's response to his or her sin is different; therefore, the alienation is different for each individual. Hester's alienation is purely physical, Dimmesdale's alienation is emotional and spiritual, while Chillingworth's alienation is both physical and emotional.

The theme of the Scarlet Letter, the consequence of sin is alienation, is shown through the character of Hester Prynne. Hester is alienated physically after the town discovers her sin of adultery. She is shunned by the people in the town and is never socialized with. She is not invited to weddings, parties, and other social events. When there is a gathering in the town square, everyone stands shoulder to shoulder except a circle is formed around Hester.

The narrator refers to this as a "magic circle of ignominy." The only time the town's people associate with Hester is when they hire her to sew or when she ministers to the poor. Even the poor she helps treat her as an inferior citizen.

The theme of sin causing alienation is also shown in Reverend Dimmesdale. After committing adultery, he is alienated spiritually. He experiences self-loathing and feels guilty that he cannot publicly confess to his sin. This alienates him from God because he realizes that he is a sinner and that he will go to Hell if he does not publicly confess. This inner conflict causes him great emotional grief; it tortures him and causes his body to physically deteriorate. He is only redeemed when he openly confesses his sin to the town seven years after Hester's punishment on the scaffold.

Additionally, Roger Chillingworth exhibits the theme that the consequence of sin is alienation. His sin of malice results in emotional and physical alienation. He is emotionally alienated when he tries to seek revenge on Dimmesdale for impregnating Hester, Chillingworth's estranged wife. His actions for seven years are driven by the desire for revenge. As his soul deteriorates, Chillingworth's physical deformities become more pronounced. This causes the town's people to gradually separate from him. Dimmesdale says that Chillingworth's sin is even greater than his and Hester's because Chillingworth cold-bloodedly "violates the sanctity of the human heart," where as their sin is based purely on love and expressed through sexual desire.

The theme, the consequence of sin is alienation, is shown in the three major characters in The Scarlet Letter. These characters are Hester Prynne, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth. Hester's alienation is physical, Dimmesdale's alienation is emotional, and Chillingworth's alienation is both physical and emotional. In conclusion, The Scarlet Letter illustrates that sin and its alienating consequences affects everyone differently. It can have the redemptive power to save or the negative power to destroy.