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The True Sinners
The main characters, Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth, and the Puritan society represented by the townspeople, all sinned. The story is a study of the effects of sin on the hearts and minds of Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth. Sin strengthens Hester, humanizes Dimmesdale, and turns Chillingworth into the villain. Hester Prynne�s sin was adultery. This sin was regarded very seriously by the Puritans, and was often punished by death. Hester�s punishment was to endure a public shaming on a scaffold for three hours and wear a scarlet letter �A� on her chest for the rest of her life in the town. Although Hawthorne does not pardon Hester�s sin, he interprets it in a diminished way that is less serious than of Dimmesdale and Chillingworth. Hester�s sin was a sin of desire. This sin was openly acknowledged as she wore the �A� on her chest. Although she is not justified, Hester did not commit the greatest sin of the novel. She did not deliberately commit her sin or mean to hurt others. Hester�s sin is that her passions and love were of more importance to her than the Puritan moral code. This is shown when she says to Dimmesdale, �What we did had a consecration of its own. We felt it so! We said so to each other!� Hester fully acknowledged her guilt and displayed it with pride to the world. This was obvious by the way she displayed the scarlet letter. It was elaborately designed as if to show Hester was proud of what she had done. Hester is indeed a sinner; adultery is not a minor affair, even today. On the other hand, her sin has brought her not evil, but good. Her charity to the poor, her comfort to the broken-hearted, her unquestionable presence in times of trouble are all direct results of her quest for repentance. Her salvation also lies in the truth. She tells Dimmesdale of Chillingworth�s real identity, keeping it a secret before, to aid in her salvation. Her pursuit in telling the truth is evident in the lines, �In all things else, I have striven to be true! Truth was the one virtue, which I might have held fast, and did hold fast, through all extremity save when thy good--the life--they fame--were put in question! Then I consented a deception. But a lie is never good, even though death threaten the other side!� Even though Hester�s sin is the one the book is titled after and centered around, it is not nearly the worst sin committed. Hester learns from her sin, and grows strong, a direct result from her punishment. The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not go. �Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers, stern and wild ones, and they had made her strong...� Hester also deceived Dimmesdale, also committing the sin of deception. She swore to Chillingworth that she would keep him being her husband a secret. She even withheld this from Dimmesdale, who she truly loved. Hester finally insisted on telling Dimmesdale and clearing her conscience. In this passage, it can be seen how he grows angry at Hester: �O Hester Prynne, thou little, little knowest all the horror of this thing! And the shame! the indelicacy! The horrible ugliness of this exposure of a sick and guilty heart to the very eye that would gloat over it! Woman, woman, thou art accountable for this! I cannot forgive thee!� Dimmesdale does forgive Hester. She has done the right thing in telling him. Her sin of deception is then lifted off her chest. Hester�s vow of truth is then kept.
Arthur Dimmesdale�s sin was the same as Hester�s. He is Hester�s silent partner in crime. The guilty one who has confessed nothing in order to save himself. Actually, Dimmesdale is a coward, a man who is too weak to confess his guilt, even though he desires to greatly. As a way of self-punishment, Dimmesdale has created a supposed �A� on his own chest by beating himself. Dimmesdale has committed the crime of hypocrisy. He is a minister and every week gets up on his pulpit to hear his congregation�s sins. Somehow, Dimmesdale is too weak to confess his own sin. By hiding it,
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