Is it better to confess a sin rather than concealing it? The novel The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, focuses on how hiding a sin can destroy a person and the people around them. In the novel, Hester and Dimmesdale, commit adultery which results in them bearing a child. The townspeople punish Hester by forcing her to wear a letter A, but Dimmesdale is not punished because he does not confess his sin until he dies. In the novel, The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses the characterization of Dimmesdale to demonstrate that sin and guilt can consume a person physically, emotionally, and mentally if they do not confess. Hawthorne presents a finer image of the way hidden sin and guilt affect a person through Dimmesdale’s character.
Throughout the novel, Dimmesdale changes into a coward and a weaker man. His guilt becomes too much for him which eventually destroys him. Dimmesdale’s health deteriorates because of the way he punishes himself in order to mask his guilt. For example, Hawthorne illustrates the effect of Dimmesdale’s guilt disfiguring him: “In Mr.
Dimmesdale’s secret closet, under lock and key, there was a bloody scourge… laughing bitterly at himself the while, and smiting so much the more pitilessly, because of that bitter laugh. It was his custom, too, as it has been that of many other pious Puritans, to fast-not, however, like them, in order to purify the body and render it the fitter medium of celestial illumination, but rigorously, and until his knees trembled beneath him, as an act of penance” (141). Otherwise speaking, Dimmesdale’s character reveals to be damaged by his ignominy and guilt.
He laughs at himself because he does not have pity. In order to relieve himself from his lack of culpability, Dimmesdale believes it is fair to punish himself. In addition, Dimmesdale starves himself to the point where his knees tremble and cause him to nearly collapse as a way to become free from sin. Hawthorne uses characterization to divulge Dimmesdale’s inner conflict that includes torturing himself. The bloody scourge is used to “purify the Dimmesdale’s body” and to “render it the fitter medium of celestial illumination” in order for him to break free from his guilt. The bloody scourge is Dimmesdale’s attempt to purify himself from his sin.
Not only does he damage his body, but he also has visages as a way to satisfy God. Because Dimmesdale is suppressing his sin, his guilt is consuming him. His body becomes weak, to the point where it gives up. His mind becomes obsessed trying to find a way to alleviate the guilt that is devouring him. As demonstrated, guilt demolishes the body and mind and can lead a person to desolation. If Dimmesdale would have confessed to his sin, perhaps his body would not have been dominated by guilt.
Hawthorne demonstrates guilt having an effect on a person’s emotions through Dimmesdale. When Hester and her child attend a meeting with the governor in order to decide what will happen to the child, Dimmesdale displays emotional effects of his guilt. In the meeting, Dimmesdale “looked now more careworn and emaciated than as we described him at the scene of Hester’s public ignominy; and whether it were his failing health, or whatever the cause might be, his large dark eyes had a world of pain in their troubled and melancholy depth” (110). Evidently, Dimmesdale looks unhappy and gaunt because his eyes are expressing a feeling of pensive sadness.
Dimmesdale’s eyes are presenting his inner pain, which is bigger than what it was before Hester’s public ignominy. Hawthorne uses symbolism to reveal the hidden truth behind Dimmesdale’s eyes, which is also set off by a semicolon. Hawthorne uses symbolism to uncover Dimmesdale’s guilt hidden behind his eyes. The “inner pain” Hawthorne describes in Dimmesdale’s eyes is the guilt he is keeping to himself. Dimmesdale feels regretful for his sin since he has now created an emotional bond with both Hester and their child.
The description of Dimmesdale’s eyes signifies the dark and troubled state he is in. Dimmesdale is concealing his sin which is causing a great deal of emotional pain.