The Prisoner's Dilemma In The Scarlet Letter

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Throughout his novel, Nathaniel Hawthorne made use of the decision matrix known as the prisoner’s dilemma. The prisoner’s dilemma is present in many pairings of characters with Hester and Pearl representing ‘sin’ and ‘truth’ deciding the outcome. Hester is already known to embody sin to the Puritan community because she was described as “the figure, the body, the reality of sin” in chapter five, while Pearl is indubitably an allegory for ‘truth’ through and through the novel numerous times. Hawthorne purposely makes the dichotomy of Hester and Pearl’s prisoner’s dilemma known in their titular chapter “Hester and Pearl”; the fifteenth chapter. Before, during, and after this chapter, Hester and Pearl had four possible outcomes for their dilemma. The first would be that both Hester and Pearl reveal the…show more content…
Therefore, Hawthorne had pursued one outcome as what occurred in his novel. Textual evidence from the novel proved that Hester essentially ‘kept silent’ to Pearl about why Dimmesdale held his hand over his heart, and the true meaning of the scarlet letter she wore. She had told Pearl “What know I of [Dimmesdale’s] heart? And...I wear [the scarlet letter] for the sake of its gold thread.” Contrapositively, Pearl ‘confessed’ to the town, telling Hester “Nay, [Hester], I have told all I know”, which meant Pearl had betrayed her. Hester lied to Pearl, ‘keeping silent’ about her sin and withholding the truth for her own “sake” rather than reveal it. Pearl, being an allegory, sought truth and, staying true to her characterization, questioned Hester, causing her to ‘keep silent’ and sin further. The pair are left in a situation where Hester ‘kept silent’ and Pearl ‘confessed’, which leave them with a peculiar outcome in comparison to the
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