Guilt And Shame In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a novel that centers around guilt and shame. With the story set in 17th century Boston, the Puritan society had much influence on government and society. “Sinful acts”, as defined by the Puritans, were grounds for social alienation at the time. Guilt and shame are the feelings caused from humiliation when acts that are frowned upon are done. Characters like Hester Prynne, Roger Chillingworth, and Minister Dimmesdale, all became involved in “sinful acts” and experienced guilt and shame. Hester Prynne is a character that experiences the largest amount of external guilt and shame out of all the characters in The Scarlet Letter. After being released from prison, Hester Prynne was “free to return to her birthplace, or any other European land, and hide her character”(V:67). She could have ripped off the scarlet letter and started fresh somewhere else. Instead, Hester stayed in Boston as a form of rebellion. The scarlet letter’s connotation of guilt and shame ends up wearing Hester down, over time, Hester’s heart “[loosing] its regular…show more content…
His choice to involve himself with Hester Prynee, despite the sins of adultery and having a child as a result, causes him to erode from the inside out. Dimmesdale’s shame bubbles up inside him and is unable to be released due to his reluctance to publicly acknowledge his sin. Instead, Dimmesdale “kept vigils, likewise, night after night”(XI:120). During one of his extensive vigils, Dimmesdale saw his mother, “turning her face away as she passed by”(XI:121). His own shame manifested itself through the eyes of his mother, who was horrified by Dimmesdale’s selfish, sinful actions. Dimmesdale forcing Hester to undergo the raising their child alone disgusted Dimmesdale’s subconscious, as represented by his mother. So, though Hester protected him from the public shame, Dimmesdale couldn’t help but feel internal
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