How be on the scaffold for three hours

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How would it feel to carry a secret sin without anyone knowing? The Scarlet Letter answers this question with the character Dimmesdale and how he deals with the secret sin that he commit. It tells the story of Dimmesdale, a timid pastor that suffers from his sin throughout the story and Hester an independent woman that is put in prison for the crime of adultery that both of them commit. The story goes on how Dimmesdale lives with the sin as a secret and Hester lives with it in public. The novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne uses characterization of Dimmesdale to illustrate the secrecy of sin and how it can ruin a person emotionally, physically or mentally. Dimmesdale starts to see the ramification of holding in his sin and starts to feel culpable when seeing Hester take the blame for something they both did. In the beginning of the novel, Hester and Dimmesdale both have commit adultery, which is unacceptable by the Puritans. Hester is on the scaffold refusing to reveal the father of her child to the people in order to save Dimmesdale’s reputation as a preacher. As punishment for the sin, Hester must be on the scaffold for three hours and always wearing the scarlet letter. Nobody knows that Dimmesdale also commit the crime of adultery; therefore, the townspeople pressure him to persuade Hester in revealing her partner’s name, but she refuses to divulge it. Dimmesdale does not pressure her because he fears that she would reveal his name. Hester protects Dimmesdale’s identity, but it causes her to be thrown into prison alone for the act of evil that they commit together. Furthermore, as the townspeople want Dimmesdale to address Hester’s sin, he contemplates wishing to “step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so than to hide a guilty heart through life”(65). In other words, Dimmesdale feels that he should give up his reputation and stand by Hester to take the humiliation of their sin together. Dimmesdale thinks taking the shame with Hester will be better than holding the guilt throughout his life. Hawthorne uses foreshadow to let the reader know about Dimmesdale’s guilt taking over him. The words which relate to guilt, “mistaken pity”,  “tenderness”, “pedestal of shame” and “hide a guilty heart through life” reveal and justify how miserable Dimmesdale feels not being with Hester to confess the sin, and instead he keeps it as a secret. Dimmesdale deals with his conflict emotionally and that begin to impact him negatively, which causes him to become a remote individual. He goes on feeling distress about not standing with Hester on the scaffold, which creates guilt. In addition, the guilt seems to be taking over Dimmesdale because Hester is taking all the blame for the crime that they have done together. Without a doubt, this starts to mislead Dimmesdale’s emotions and makes him feel remorse. Dimmesdale blames himself for not stepping up and taking responsibility for his wrongdoings. Hawthorne foreshadows Dimmesdale’s regret of committing adultery because it starts to negatively affect his emotions. He begins to damage himself internally because of the fact that he feeling guilty for his action. The diction that Hawthorne uses directly illustrates how Dimmesdale feels for not being accountable to the sin that he has commit. If Dimmesdale has not commit adultery, he would of have been a passionate and powerful minister throughout the whole story, but instead, he feels gloomy and vulnerable.Reverend Dimmesdale is physically torturing and relentlessly punishing himself because he feels guilty for committing the sin of adultery. In the middle of the novel, Dimmesdale believes that by physically punishing himself, he can get rid of the sin of adultery. Therefore, he starts to lack his physical strength and energy everyday because of holding his sin a secret. There are two different forms of self-punishment that Dimmesdale performs to himself. One of them is fasting and that will cause him to feel hollow and ravenous. Fasting for too long can cause serious health problems that Dimmesdale faces in the novel. Another form of punishment is physically whips himself from the feeling of guilt that is kept inside him. The guilt starts to take over Dimmesdale as well as making him look unhealthy and not as pure as before. Dimmesdale feels culpable for not publicizing the sin with Hester; therefore, he tries to “fast…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). Here, Dimmesdale starts to fast so that he can cleanse his body and to get his soul closer to God. However, he fast until the point where he causes himself physical pain, which makes his knees tremble. Dimmesdale punishes himself by abusing his body and he performs this because he commit the sin of adultery, which he knew was wrong. Hawthorne uses imagery to illustrate the suffering and pain of Dimmesdale to the readers. He also uses a dash to interjection one thought into another. Hawthorne uses the words “rigorously”, “trembled” and “penance” to describe the agony that Dimmesdale is causing to himself. The narrator reveals that Dimmesdale becomes even more vulnerable than before by damaging himself physically. As his guilt grows throughout the story, his body become infirm and delicate. In fact, he become defenseless because he hiding the truth from the townspeople. Hawthorne uses imagery to add the characterization of Dimmesdale of being a powerless and ailing human-being. Furthermore, this emphasizes the fact that covering up a sin will cause an individual to build up guilt and perform self-punishment. Dimmesdale keeps on torturing his body, but he cannot get rid of the sin that he has commit. He damages his own body by starving himself, which shows that he become sicker each day that he performs self-punishment. Dimmesdale starts to fall apart because as he is torturing himself, his guilt starts to grow. Hawthorne demonstrates that Dimmesdale’s guilt controls his life not only emotionally but physically as well.The character Dimmesdale not only causes himself pain emotionally and physically, but also suffers from his sin mentally. After Dimmesdale physically punishes himself for commiting the crime of adultery, he begins another punishment that will cause him pain mentally. He abuses his mind by staying awake all night and meditating upon his sin. This form of punishment is an attempt to get rid of his sin by being vigil. By performing this type of punishment, Dimmesdale starts to hallucinate and begins to have visions. One of the most significant vision that he has is about Hester’s scarlet letter and how he is not wearing it because he keeps his sin a secret. Dimmesdale feels like he should make his secret sin public, but he doesn’t have the courage to achieve it. He goes on feeling more guilty about himself because he does not reveal who he is to his own daughter from the fear of the community and how they will think of him. His daughter points at the scarlet letter and then at Dimmesdale’s chest: “None of these visions ever quite deluded him…so far as he shows himself in a false light, becomes a shadow, or, indeed, ceases to exist”(142-143). This vision has seem very realistic to Dimmesdale and it starts to trick his mind. He mentally pretends to reveal himself, but in reality he starts to fade and doesn’t feels alive. Hawthorne uses juxtaposition to put contrasting ideas next to one another to create an effect of astonishment and wit. He uses the words “false light” and “shadow” to describe how Dimmesdale feels mentally about keeping his sin to himself.  The vision is significant to Dimmesdale because he starts to lose himself mentally and makes him feel worse about hiding his sin. The visions make him feel guilty and insecure for not being bold and telling the community that he commit adultery with Hester. Instead, Dimmesdale does not take action for his responsibility and begins to blame himself throughout the story. This end up on destroying Dimmesdale’s mentality because his guilt starts to build up inside him. By having these visions, it makes the reader wonder how long he can actually keep his sin a secret. Hawthorne builds on Dimmesdale’s characterization by using juxtaposition to show how he is a obscure and private person. The phrase “false light” refers to Dimmesdale wanting to reveal himself , but does actually take any action in doing so. The “shadow” refers to Dimmesdale and how he feels like he is fading in existence. The diction that Hawthorne uses describes Dimmesdale’s feeling of keeping his sin a secret. Dimmesdale is mentally is losing himself because keeping his sin a secret is ruining his life through the guilt that builds up inside him. The characterization of Dimmesdale describes how the secrecy of sin can harm a person emotionally, physically or mentally. The novel The Scarlet Letter emphasizes that holding a secret sin is dreadful because of the guilt that starts to build up. Everyday the guilt keeps on adding up when the sin is kept a secret, this starts to take play emotionally. The guilt starts to make individuals feel shame and regret, which will eventually lead on to self-punishment. By abusing him/herself it shows that keeping a secret can misleading the mentally of an individual. Holding a secret sin will develop guilt and cause an individual to torture themselves emotionally, physically and mentally.

Categories: Emotions


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