Not just Black and White

A famous novel, The Scarlett Letter, delves into a world of sin and its effects on the people involved. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author, writes about a woman, Hester Prynne, who committed adultery and now has to live with the consequences; a scarlet letter embroidered on her dress. The novel follows Hester’s life, as well as her daughter Pearl, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth, over the course of seven years. It depicts all the things Hester has to go through because of her infidelities. She is shunned by others in the town, she feels like her daughter has evil in her (a result of what Hester did), and she also has secrets she keeps about the men involved. Not only is Hester affected by this sin, her husband, whom she thought was dead, returns and makes his sole purpose in life revenge. Then there is Arthur Dimmesdale, who is also Pearls father, who is literally slowly being killed by his guilt over these crimes. All this characters represent what sin can do to people, created sadness, guilt, or hatred.

Although Hawthorne’s novel is about these effects, he never condones or condemns the act of adultery between his characters. However, after reading the novel, most can agree he is borderline; meaning he does not condone it, but he also does not fully condemn it. Throughout his novel, he continually talks about the negative consequences associated with adultery; the guilt and shame his characters feel. However, Hawthorne also never outrights says that his characters are terrible people and deserve everything they’ve been handed. He sympathizes with them, acknowledging their pain and regret, as well as their desire to amend things. Hester and Arthurs crime was “of passion, not of principle, nor even purpose” (Chapter XVIII A Flood of Sunshine). Meaning that it was not to smite Hester’s husband or undermine their religion, it was merely passion. The act itself was not accepted, Hawthorne wrote, but he also wrote it wasn’t because of some evil desire to do wrong. He also said that no matter the reaction of other people, “the sufferer” shall always be haunted by the sin not because of “the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it” (Chapter II The Market Place).Hawthorne is probably implying there is no need for people to be outright rude and constantly remind a person what they did, since their own guilt will do the job. However, that also doesn’t mean to condone the actions, but as a person not directly involved stay somewhere in the middle of condemn and condone. One could argue either side, and claim that was Hawthorne’s viewpoint, but he never distinctly leans towards one side.

The Scarlett Letter is about the sin people commit, and also the people who then have to live with the aftermath. The purpose of Hawthorne’s novel does not seem to want readers to hate nor accept the crime, but to understand the sinner’s point of view, to sympathize rather than automatically look down on. This novel depicts adultery, or any crime, as not being just black and white, but gray; to neither condone nor condemn. Hawthorne seems like he truly believes in the gray area and wants his readers to understand that idea through his characters and their journeys.


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