Hypocrisy in the Scarlet Letter “Truth was the one virtue which I might have held fast… save when thy good – thy life – thy fame – were put into question. ” These words spoken by Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter display her practice of situational morals and hypocrisy. Hawthorne displays this major element of human nature, hypocrisy in all characters save young Pearl who is blatantly unique from most people. Dimmesdale, Hester, and the entire Puritan community are hypocrites, and their hypocrisy manifests itself in the conflict of this novel.
Hawthorne created a drastic difference between the inward and outward lives of everyone in this story and they can be related to the hypocrisy present in modern society. People never change, hypocrisy will always be present both today in the past. Arthur Dimmesdale’s hypocrisy is the most prominent. He gives public sermons on sin meanwhile he conceals to himself his private sin of fornicating with Hester. During his sermons he tells the people he is a sinner knowing it will only make him appear as a humble saint while trying to relieve some of his guilt.
His selfish act of prevarication harms not only himself but Hester and Pearl as well. Hester must suffer through taking the public shame of the scarlet letter while Dimmesdale keeps his respected and pious reputation. Pearl is bastardized by Dimmesdale’s deplorable actions and is forced to be raised by a single parent. Dimmesdale’s daughter reaches out to him asking him to stand with her and her mother on the scaffold, symbolizing Dimmesdale confessing to his sin but he declines.
In many attempts to ease his own guilt, Dimmesdale commits acts of self-mutilation that only adds to the deterioration of his physical health, causing him to eventually die, stopping him from ever living a happy life with Hester and their daughter. If he been honest to the community, he would have been able to relieve himself of his guilt and have no reason to not go on and enjoy a life with his new family. Dimmesdale’s “lover” Hester Prynne is as equally hypocritical as he is. Hester is portrayed loving everyone in a hypocritical fashion.
While she loves Dimmesdale enough to suffer life in Boston with the scarlet letter without retreating beck to England, she allows him to be tormented by Roger Chillingworth for seven years, without informing Arthur that Chillingworth is the man she was married to. It was in Hester’s silence that she allowed the man she loved to be tormented by her vengeful husband. Chillingworth mentally tormented Dimmesdale to the point where Dimmesdale came to physically abused himself, it is by Hester’s hand that this happens for if she had been honest with Dimmesdale Chillingworth would not have been able to affect Dimmesdale’s emotional balance.
Her only reasoning behind keeping the truth about her husband away from Dimmesdale was an oath she took to Roger who she no longer loved. In England, Hester originally took public vows to love Roger for the rest of their lives, but after her brief time in Boston she decided to betray Roger by having an affair. Hester sacrifices everything for her only daughter Pearl who she loves, she does everything possible to raise her on her own. However, by keeping her affair with Dimmesdale a secret, she denies Pearl the chance to grow up with a father not only hurting Pearl but also herself and Dimmesdale.
This story takes place in a hypocritical society. Puritanical society said that they followed the Bible but they lived in a way following the relentlessness of Jonathan Edwards’ speech “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. While the Bible advocates forgiveness and toleration, Puritans advocated for harsh punishment and condemnation. When Hester is put upon the scaffold, many women speak of how this punishment is not harsh enough, that public humiliation is too easy for a woman who made a personal choice of who she wanted to be with but instead they believe that Hester should be branded with a hot iron.
While these women stand comfortably on the ground with their fingers pointed, one could speculate that at the very least some of them have sinned privately as well, and they also deserve the stigma of the scarlet letter. The Scarlet Letter is an example of how any society can be haunted by hypocrisy. In this book every character gives in to hypocrisy and it is the source of their misery by creating animosity amongst each other as well as stigmas and guilt on the sinners. Even though this novel was written over a century ago, its message is still true for modern society.
Society would be a better place if it were not so harmed by the hypocritical nature of most people, when someone’s inward self and outward self agree with each other, then they are truly honest. Bibliography Johnson, Claudia Durst . “A Literary Analysis of The Scarlet Letter ? Dimmesdale. ” Understanding The Scarlet Letter. Literature in Context Online. Greenwood Press, 2002. 31 May http://www. gem. greenwood. com Johnson, Claudia Durst . “A Literary Analysis of The Scarlet Letter ? Hester. Understanding The Scarlet Letter. Literature in Context Online. Greenwood Press, 2002. 31 May Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The scarlet letter . Pleasantville, N. Y. : Reader’s Digest Association, 1984. Print. “Nathaniel Hawthorne- Hypocrisy In The Scarlet Letter. ” Escola. ro. N. p. , n. d. Web. 31 May. 2011. . establishment, the educational, and this was required reading in many courses of. ” A Model of Christian Charity — by Gov. John Winthrop, 1630 . ” The Religious FreedomPage. N. p. , n. d. Web. 31 May. 2011. .