The Scarlet Letter Penance Vs. Penitence

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Penance vs. Penitence In the novel, The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne writes of the hypocrisy of the Puritans in the 1600’s. He expresses the hardships of Hester Prynne and her adulterous lover, Authur Dimmesdale, who is also the town’s preacher. Because Reverend Dimmesdale is a very noble preacher, he has to persist with the guilt of his sin and continue to preach how one should live a holy and pure lifestyle. Therefore, he feels miserable for his wrongdoing and punishes himself. Even though Dimmesdale inflicts an abundant amount of penance for his sin on himself, it takes the whole course of the novel to experience his penitence for his sin. Penance is a punishment undergone in token for penitence of a sin or wrongdoing. The …show more content…

Dimmesdale had achieved a brilliant popularity in his sacred office. He won it, indeed, in great part by his sorrows. (Hawthorne 128)
The guilt of his sin has eaten him alive, so much that his visage and demeanor are almost cadaverous. Dimmesdale does not confess his sin until the end of the novel because he does not want to disappoint his congregation. He knows that if he reveals what he has done, then his followers will lose their respect for him. He is burdened with his sin; therefore, he inflicts pain upon himself for his wrongdoing. Dimmesdale goes as far as having vigils all night, being tortured by “diabolic shapes,” and emaciating and whipping himself. Dimmesdale punishes himself because he wants to repent for the sin that he has committed. However, he will not repent for his sin until he confesses. Penitence is regret for one’s wrongdoing. Dimmesdale does not feel penitence for his sins:
Happy are you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret! Thou little knowest what a relief it is, after the torment of a seven years' cheat, to look into an eye that recognizes me for what I am! (Hawthorne

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