In the Scarlet Letter, the major themes are based on the impact of sin and confession. Although themes of story are generally based on Hawthorne’s opinions of the subject, a slightly different perspective is expressed through each character. Through detailed characterization and symbolism, Hawthorne has crafted many important themes. While the bases of the themes are similar, three main characters: Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth, all express different interpretations of their meanings.
In the novel, many of the themes are based upon the failures of the Puritan society. A character that is used to express one of these main ideas is Hester Prynne, a woman who committed adultery. The Puritan townsfolk believe that her sinful act is a threat to society and decide that she should be punished. As a punishment for her sinful acts, the Puritans have demanded her into wearing the scarlet letter and forced her into a state of outcast. Throughout the story, Hester shows how a state of sinfulness can lead to change, sympathy, and an omniscient understanding of others. Through these positive changes in Hester, Hawthorne shows that these qualities aren’t compatible with a state of purity in the Puritan society. With the use of Hester, the author expresses that a person cannot both have these characteristics and remain pure simultaneously.
While Hester’s character is based upon the gains that can occur from a sinful state, Dimmesdale shows a slightly different perspective of the topic. By assigning Dimmesdale as being a minister, Hawthorne shows that everyone, even the most pure of them all, is a sinner. His sinful act shows that nobody can be in a complete state of purity. Also, because he is a minister, he is expected to remain pre and therefore forces himself to keep his sinful acts a secret. Later in the story, he becomes very ill, and eventually dies. Boy causing this grief to the minister, Hawthorne attempts to express how it is easier to simply confess then it is to keep things inside not admit to wrongdoings. By allowing Hester to remain healthy, even from committing the same sin as Dimmesdale, the author shows the difference that a confession, and a release of guilt can do for a person.
Hawthorne emphasizes the plot for revenge of a character, Chillingworth, to help lessen the degree of sin committed by Hester and Dimmesdale. Chillingworth’s obvious lust for revenge is used to express how oblivious the Puritan society really is to true acts of sin. The fact that Hester’s sin is blown out of proportion while the Puritans are entirely ignorant of other sins, expresses how the sin beliefs of Puritans do not function properly. Through Chillingworth, Hawthorne shows that while a truly evil person can go unpunished for a sin, an everyday act committed by a normal person can be punished for life in the Puritan society.
As the author has shown in most of his themes, it is too difficult to distinguish a sinner, like Chillingworth, from sympathetic and caring people, like Hester and Dimmesdale. To Hawthorne, this is why the Puritan’s beliefs of sin and purity don’t function within normal people in a normal society. Also, like in Dimmesdales case, the Puritan life style encourages people to resist confession. Without the ability to confess without a punishment, the entire society of Puritan’s will live forever in a state of guilt.