In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne argues that the sufferer never know[s] the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it (55). This sentiment reflects Hoopers, Dimmesdales and Hesters choice to sacrifice part of their lives and the repercussion that followed. The Puritan community is an unforgiving and punitive. Hester Prynne, a character in Hawthorne letter punished for adultery with the minister and refusal to name the culprit. She is made to wear the scarlet letter A on her dress. The sacrifice she makes has many repercussions especially on her relationships. On the other hand, Hooper is a character in the Ministers Black Veil. He wears a veil for the sins of his congregation and becomes isolated. In the Ministers Black Veil and The Scarlet Letter both written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the characters, Reverend Hooper, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Hester Prynne sacrificed earthly relationships, which reveals their faith, morals, and isolation from society.
In The Ministers Black Veil, Hooper becomes completely isolated from the society. His choice to wear the veil alienates him. Hawthorne explains the extent of the isolation by saying that the veil shrouded Hooper in sorry or the uncertainty of sin such as love and sympathy could not reach him. People do not wish to associate with him and think the worst of him. Others think he is mad while others feel that the weight of his secret sin prevents him for showing his face. Whatever the reason, no one wants to be close to him. Hooper wears the veil for the sins of the congregation and accepts to be the bearer of their sins so that they could not be burdened by their own sins.
He also sacrifices his relationship with Elizabeth due to the refusal to remove the veil. Elizabeth feels that the veil will make people think that he has committed a secret sin. However, nothing can convince him to change his mind. He sacrifices love, companionship, and even his reputation to wear the black veil. These sacrifices ultimately lead to loss of his love. Hawthorne explains that although Hooper was loving and kind, he was unloved, feared and was alone among a multitude of people.
Hooper does not understand why the congregation trembles at him alone while everyone has secrets they are trying to hide. The congregation fears him and none of the members were to be left alone with him. They wonder how he faces himself with the ghostlike appearance he attains from wearing the veil. The veil causes the townspeople to speculate on possible reasons for Hoppers decision to wear the veil. None of the possible reasons are flattering. He explains that the veil is merely a symbol of the masks of deceit and sin. As such, the congregation should worry about their veils instead of treating him like something to be feared.
Although it leads to his isolation, Hoopers sacrifice pays off by making him an extraordinary minister. He chooses to make God his top priority. The veil allows him to practice his faith more effectively. Hawthorne explains that when Hooper preached, the people who were in the congregation felt like he could see their thoughts and sins. Similar to Dimmesdale, Hooper can relate better and empathize with his congregation. Their circumstances provide each with insights they lacked before.
Hester is considered a living sermon. She represents what is sinful. Hester becomes a symbol of what happens to sinners. She was no longer a respectable or welcomed member of the community. The public humiliation she suffered was calculated not only to correct her behavior but also to deter others from committing similar crimes. Although adultery was punishable by death, the impact of her death would be short lived. However, alive and wearing the scarlet letter, she becomes a constant reminder to all on the wages of sin.
Hester sacrifices her prime. She wears the scarlet letter for seven years robbing her of some of the best years of her life. She cannot enjoy the simple things in life and decides to dedicate her life to helping the less fortunate. She is denied the opportunity to experience love, to form relationships with others or enjoy any other social activity. Her sacrifice robs her the best years of her life.
The Scarlet Letter alienates a person from the society. Whenever Hester stands, there is a small vacant area- a sort of magic circle (Hawthorne 205). People do not want to come near her. The scarlet letter was the symbol of her sin and due to the communitys religious beliefs; they do not want to be associated with a sinner. The Puritan community administers punishment in the most severe and humiliating manner. The scarlet letter ensures that none of the community members could freely interact with Hester. Hester and Pearl finally leave town after Dimmesdales death and Chillingworths demise. However, she does not leave due to her shame, but to protect her daughter from the Puritan community.
Both Hester and Dimmesdale endure the sin of adultery. The effect of the scarlet letter is so potent that no sympathy can reach Hester as people fear that an association with her would make them sinners. Dimmesdale, a minister, also suffers for his sin. Although his suffering is not as public as Hesters, his guilt eats him up and destroys his happiness. He lacks peace. Despite loving each other deeply, their love is prohibited and was a cause of pain and suffering.
The longer Dimmesdale keeps his secret concerning the adultery, the worse his health becomes. However, the community though that his health deteriorated due to the challenging pastoral duties. Dimmesdales health and well-being deteriorate continually from the weight of his guilt. He knows that he had allowed Hester to publicly carry his burden by wearing the scarlet letter, adding to his guilt. The knowledge that he was a sinner weighed heavily on his conscience and manifested physically.
The minister seeks ways to receive penance for his sins. He has a bloody scourge in his secret closet that he uses to torture himself hoping to relieve his guilt (Hawthorne 130). However, torturing himself does not yield the expected results. Dimmesdale grows physically weak and is never at peace because he cannot find a way to reduce his guilt and shame. He understands that the only way he will find peace is through publicly confessing his sins.
Dimmesdale worries about peoples reaction when they find out the truth about him. He is a popular and famous minister. Dimmesdale also understands how the Puritan community works and the importance of reputation (Hawthorne 135). In the Puritan community, respect is accorded to those with an impeccable reputation. As such, the minister is in constant fear of what would happen to him once the community finds out the truth. He would lose respect and would probably be unable to preach in his community again.
Dimmesdale hates sin and believes in God with a burning passion. As he is dying, he praises God for having mercy on him. He hates that he is a sinner and the community still holds him in high regard. His moral standing does not allow him to appreciate that his sin has never been discovered. Instead, he suffers due to the secret he wants to tell but is unable. He loathes himself for his inability to confess and accept the inevitable punishment. As he dies, he attempts to confess. However, the confession is ambiguous leaving the community members confused.
Dimmesdale considers revenge a moral sin worse than the adultery. Hawthorne argues that Chillingworth knowingly plotted evil against a fellow man hence convinces himself that That old mans revenge has been blacker than [his] sin. To Dimmesdale, the deliberate choice to inflict pain on others for vengeance is almost unforgivable. However, he believes that God is merciful and can forgive even the vilest.
Although Dimmesdales confession is ambiguous, he finds comfort that he can finally face his punishment. He recognizes that he has committed a grave sin that is punishable by death. Therefore, during his dying moment, he bravely faces death and his faith in God remains steadfast. As he breathes his last, he is still concerned with his relationship with God. His confession included accepting Pearl who was the fruit of his sin. Accepting his daughter and the public confession gave him peace and salvation.
When Hooper and Dimmesdale die, their relationship with God is still strong. Hooper wants to be buried with the veil as he believes that only in the hereafter will he receive peace. Similarly, Dimmesdale dies while praising God. Although Dimmesdale does not know whether he will see heaven, he believes in a merciful God who will forgive his transgression. In the end, he only wants God to do his will.
These characters all experience harsh treatment whether verbal, physical or mental as a result of their sacrifice. Hester is made to walk with a symbol of her sin and is treated harshly and endure verbal mistreatment. On the other hand, both Dimmesdale and Hooper suffer mentally. Although others do not see their suffering, Dimmesdale and Hooper feel burdened by their sacrifice. The characters Reverend Hooper, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale sacrificed earthly relationships, which reveals their faith, morals, and isolation in The Ministers Black Veil and The Scarlet Letter both of which were written by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
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.
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