校园英语·上旬 2017年17期


【Abstract】Sin is something society has had to deal with since human being has known evil. Everyone sins to a degree. Some people may embrace it, some may hide it. Different attitudes may lead to different results. In The Scarlet Letter, there are two attitudes. As for Hester Prynne, she admits her sin and accepts the punishment. She finally frees from it and is honored as an Angel. By contrast, Dimmesdale shows hypocrisy and cowardice because of his social status. His denial of sin leads to his death at last.

【Key words】sin; honesty; bravery; hypocrisy; cowardice

The masterpiece The Scarlet Letter tells us a story which happened in New England. An aging English scholar sends his beautiful wife, Hester Prynne by name, to make their new home in New England. When he comes over two years later he is wildered to see his wife in pillory, wearing a scarlet letter A which means “Adultery” in her breast, holding her illicit child in her arms. Determined to find out her lover, the old scholar disguises himself as a physician. Gradually he discovers that the villain is no other than the much-admired brilliant young clergyman Arthur Dimmesdale. Tormenting himself ruthlessly for his sin, Dimmesdale cuts himself off from the outside world and withers spiritually as well as physically. Even though she was punished severely, Hester Prynne does her best to reestablish her fellowship with her neighbors on an honest and kind basis and finally wins their love and admiration. At one time, she plans to escape with Dimmesdale, but finally her plan is destroyed by her husband. In the end, Dimmesdale dies in Hesters arms, confessing his sin at a public gathering.

In the book, the author shows two attitudes towards sin. One is to be frank, with the representative of Hester Prynne. Just as the author says:” The Scarlet Letter was her passport into region where other women dared not to tread” A burning blush, a haughty smile, a glance that would not be abashed, Hester comes out from the prison and into our eyes. Here Hester is portrayed as an aristocratic and beautiful young woman who meets her sentence with dignity and courage. Anyone who reads it may not imagine that the young lady is going for a punishment but for a party. However, if you are a sensitive observer, you can observe that there is something exquisitely painful in her heart. She just bears the weight on her sin deeply within her conscience. At this time, we may say that she is not mature enough. She is a little stubborn and it is the stubbornness supports her bravery. It is our human beings nature that there is a provision the sufferer should never know the intensity of what she endures by its present torture, but briefly by the time when the sufferings ends, she may feel the pain. Hester is now on the position. Once she has to go back to normal life, she may lose the “courage” to face it. The one who can really endure the torture of everyday life will be the real winner of life. Is Hester the real winner?

She decides not to leave the town. As a Puritan, she can not get rid of the influence of Puritan thoughts. In accordance with Puritans standard, she sins, just as she says, there has been the place of her guilt and there should be the place of her earthly punishment. She lives in a small cottage which lies on the outskirts of the town and is not in close vicinity to any other habitation. In order to earn a living for herself and her little thriving infant, she makes good use of her only ability—needlework. Her needlework turns out to be marvelous and becomes a kind of fashion in the town. She serves the society with her own hand, but the people who are the objects of her bounty often refuse the hand that is stretched forth to help them. Every gesture, every word and even the silence of those with whom she comes in contact implies and often expresses that she is banished by the whole society. However, Hester never responds to those attacks. From here, we know that Hester is growing psychologically. Because, as a Puritan, she thinks she sins and she has to accept the punishment. From another aspect, she also knows that it is no good to provoke the society;otherwise she will get nothing but more separation and loneliness.

She never battles with the public, but submits uncomplainingly to the worst treatment. She interferes neither with public nor with individual interests. She just earns daily bread for her little child and herself by faithful labor of her hand. Years has come and gone, Hesters position changes. So much helpfulness is found in her that many people refuse to interpret the scarlet letter “A” by its original meaning, they say it means “able”. At this time, for Hester, her life has turned out to be different. She is mature enough to deal with different kinds of relationship and complicated social psychologies. We may say that Hester is free from her sin at last.

In contrast with Hester Prynne, another hero in the novel is Dimmesdale, coward and hypocritical. He is a clergyman who is supposed to embody morality. Everyone idolizes him as he is closest to God in their community. Ironically, the fact is he commits adultery with Hester, a married Puritan young woman and impregnates her. Dimmesdale is a brilliant clergyman. His religious faith supports him and also confines him within the iron framework. As is known to all, sexual relationship is one of the most shunned sins for Puritans. Dimmesdale obviously knows that he violates the religious taboo and his action is against Gods will and God will not forgive him. Once he thinks here he puts his hands on his breast and his face becomes pale. Since there is cowardice in his personality, he has no courage to do as Hester does;the only way for him is to flee away from his sin. Another reason for him to do so comes from his position and fame. He is respected by people in the town and is afraid of admitting his sin. It is the theory that people are always afraid of being judged in a bad way, so if a person does something sinful he will deny his sin to protect their reputation especially those famous persons. Dimmesdale cant accept the potential consequences of being exiled or killed. His dignity of being a noble man prevents him.

As a result, he commits another sin. He strives to put a cheat upon himself by making the avowal of a guilty conscience and pretends to be excellent in public. Every time in order to release his pain and not expose his identity of a sinned person, he repents and forms the habit of using double meaning words. On the one hand, he hopes to confess his sin to his audience. On the other hand, he is afraid of being found guilty. He uses his identity of a clergyman to make his speech in a specific manner and arouses sympathy and forgiveness from the audiences, which makes him more popular. His confession of sin is always misunderstood. People even regard his speech as the explanation of the origin of sin and respect him more than before. Dimmesdale lives in a dilemma. He has exhausted himself spiritually and physically. Sometimes he traps into the state. When he looks upwards to the sky, he thinks that there is an immense letter A. Since he can not endure the burden and doesnt have enough courage to accept the challenge of common social customs, he is broken down and chooses death to release himself. He died selfishly, breaking Hesters last dream and leaving her alone to bear the pain.

In the book, Hawthorne creates a child Pearl who is the symbol of Hesters public punishment of her adultery. However, the author arranges a good future for the obstinate and unruly girl to inherit the fortune of Chillingworth and to marry into a noble family in Europe. A question should be raised here:why the descendant of the sinners can lead a happy life?The author may want to transform such information to readers:the born of Pearl is to redeem the world. She represents a kind of freedom and pursuit for true love. He offers us a prediction that where will be a society where people can shake off the yoke of the common ethical code to pursue the things what they want. In fact, there is no fault in Hester and Dimmesdales love. But why does the author arrange two completely different results for them?

The answer lies in their different attitudes towards sin. Hawthorne demonstrates in his novel that people who can face their sin frankly can free from it, those who covers sin inside will end up with misery. So, do just as the author calls for:” Be true! Be true! Be true!”


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