Research Paper on Sacrifice in the Scarlet Letter and the Minister's Black Veil

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Middlebury College
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Research paper
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Hester Prynne is a character in Nathaniel Hawthornes Scarlet Letter. She lives in a Puritan community, and when she is discovered to have been adulterous, she is brought before the community for her punishment. She is given a choice of naming the father of her child in exchange for a reduced sentence. Her punishment for adultery and refusal to name the culprit is to have the scarlet letter A on her dress. The sacrifice she makes has many repercussions throughout her remaining life, especially on her relationships. Dimmesdale is her lover, and although he initially refuses to sacrifice his reputation, he eventually does. On the other hand, Hooper is a character in the Ministers Black Veil. He wears a veil and sacrifices his reputation and moral standing for his beliefs. Reverend Hooper, Dimmesdale, and Hester all sacrificed their earthly relationships, a revelation of their faith, morals, and isolation from the society.

Hester refuses to give up Dimmesdals name to protect the purity of his name. After her refusal, she is forced to wear the scarlet letter A on her dress. One of the effects of the scarlet letter is taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity and enclosing her in a sphere by herself (Hawthorne 44). She sacrifices herself by refusing to name the father of her child, and her actions lead to her isolation from the society. The Puritan community is a community where religion and law are almost identical which makes everything to be perceived from a moral point of view (41). The moral beliefs would not allow them to associate with Hester or sympathize with her situation as their disproval is too strong. The result is her increased isolation from the society. Her moral conviction and conduct are exemplary but disturbing to the Puritan community and will not be fully appreciated until the world [has] grown ripe for it (263). Her sacrifice also leads to a complicated relationship with her daughter as Hester could not adequately explain the meaning of the letter.

Dimmesdale is a man of faith; he is a minister in the Puritan community. He had achieved a brilliant popularity in his sacred office" (Hawthorne 135). As a minister, he understood how the Puritan community worked and the importance that was placed on reputation. In this community, reputation determined the respect one got form the society (Bryson 84). Adultery called for a penalty which, in our days, would infer a degree of mocking infamy and ridicule, might then be invested with almost as stern a dignity as the punishment of death" (41). The relationship between Hester and Dimmesdale was adulterous in the eyes of the Puritan society. Dimmesdale, therefore, understood what confessing to the sin would mean.

Although it took a long time for his to gather the courage to confess, his confession shows that at his core, he was moral. Additionally, the effect of his delayed revelation emphasizes his morality. Were he not honest or a man of faith, his initial refusal to confess would not have such a profoundly adverse effect on him. He explains it to Hester: "Were I an atheist - a man devoid of conscience - ... I might have found peace (Hawthorne 137). When Dimmesdale finally confesses and accepts his daughter, he finds peace and salvation. Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken (173). Polhemus argues that Dimmesdale acceptance of Pearl is a moral necessity for faith and redemption (28). After his confession, he becomes banished from the society and losses all the relationships he had with the Puritan community members. Therefore, Dimmesdale choice sacrifice to sacrifice his reputation represents both his faith and moral aptitude.

In The Ministers Black Veil, Hooper becomes completely isolated from the society. His choice to wear the veil alienates him. Despite pleas from the elders and his fiance Elizabeth, he refuses to remove the veil. Hawthorne explains the extent of the isolation by stating that even "love or sympathy could never reach him" behind the veil (104). His decision to wear the black veil in spite of the resultant isolation reveals the extent of the sacrifice he makes. He sacrifices love, companionship, and even his reputation to wear the black veil. These sacrifices ultimately lead to loss of his earthly relationships. Hawthorne explains that although Hooper was loving and kind, he was unloved and dimly feared; a man apart from man (156).

The veil symbolizes the exposure of sin. Hooper hopes that by wearing the veil, the community would be forced to focus on the secret sin that each may be harboring. He explains that the veil is merely a symbol of the masks of deceit and sin. Just as his veil physically isolates him from the society, the secret sins each person hides separates them from their loved ones and the divine spirit. By choosing to wear the veil, he accepts to reveal his imperfection. His sacrifice, therefore, shows that he is a moral man. As a minister, he was expected to be holy. However, his morality could not allow him to be deceitful and as he says he could see on every visage a Black Veil (157). Although he was shunned by those who loathsomely [treasured] up the secret of [their] sin, his moral standing could not allow him to indulge in hypocrisy (157).

His action reveals his faith in his religion. Although Hooper understood the earthly implications of the evil, he believed that when he goes to heaven, he will not wear the veil. Therefore, wearing the veil was a worthy sacrifice for what was to come after death. When Elizabeth threatens to leave him because he cannot remove the veil, he pleads with her saying the veil was temporary and hereafter, there shall be no veil over my faceit is but a moral veil,-it is not for eternity. He also sacrifices his relationship with Elizabeth as his faith gave him hope that he would be able to be with her in the hereafter. Although it leads to his isolation and he loses the chance at love, Hoopers sacrifice pays off by making him an exceptional minister. He can practice his faith more effectively with the veil. Hawthorne explains that every member of the congregation, felt as if the preacher, had discovered their hoarded iniquity of deed and thought (146). His sacrifice is a show of his faith in his religion.

The sacrifices made by Hooper, Hester, and Dimmesdale led to their isolation, and they lost their earthly relationships. However, this sacrifice shows that these characters had faith and morals, perhaps greater than their fellow community members. The strength of their convictions allowed them to bear the repercussions of their sacrifices with grace and hope. Hester hoped that her daughter would live to enjoy what she could not. Hooper hoped to lead by example and eventually go to heaven where he would not be required to sacrifice anymore. For Dimmesdale, his sacrifice connected him to his daughter, and he found peace.

Works Cited

Bryson, Norman. "Hawthornes Illegible Letter." The Scarlet Letter: Modern Critical Interpretations, Edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 1986, pp. 81-94.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, and Brian Harding. The Scarlet Letter. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "The Minister's Black Veil." Nathaniel Hawthorne: Young Goodman Brown and Other Tales, Edited by Brian Harding, Oxford University Press, 1987. 144-157.

Polhemus, Robert M. Lot's Daughters: Sex, Redemption, and Women's Quest for Authority. Stanford Univ. Press, 2005.

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