Theme Of Shame In The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne centers around the idea of shame, a controlling characteristic of life that influences every characters actions. This novel focuses on the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a strict Puritan society. When Hester Prynne commits adultery in this town, she is forced into a lifetime of public shame. This not only changes her way of life, but her daughter’s as well. Yet the man that she commits adultery with is not exposed, and instead endures his own private shame, which is arguably more brutal than if he revealed himself as her lover. Hawthorne argues that shame controls many aspects of life and influences people to act in a different way than would be his nature. Hester Prynne lives a life of public shame induced…show more content…
His intense devotion to God in the Puritan society, along with his fear of being ostracized, makes him favor keeping his role of leadership in the church over his conscience, which tells him to own up to his sins. This is mentally very unhealthy for Dimmesdale, which leads to self-abuse from his guilty conscience. Dimmesdale uses a “bloody scourge” and fasted in order to “torture, but could not purify himself” (121). Not only did Dimmesdale whip himself, he almost killed himself through torture only in order to try and subdue the guilt that he could never get rid of. He even brands himself with the letter A, a mark of his sins that he is only willing to reveal to himself until the end of the novel. He “stood on the verge of lunacy” (135), tortured by both himself and by Chillingworth. Even when he finally reveals his sin, he dies right after, admitting his cowardice in that he would rather die than experience public shame. He may have lived an easier life had he revealed his secret, but he was too focused on upholding his current moral righteousness that he could not bring himself to divulge his wrongdoings. His own shame was so strong that it led to
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