We are all sinners. Although one may try hard not to sin, humankind eventually succumbs to it at some time or another. While one may be unable to avoid the fate awaiting them, however, the power of free will allows them to decide how they will respond to sin. Some may have guilt and regret, and others may react with a sense of redemption and renewed sense of responsibility. Nathanial Hawthorne has witnessed this power of sin to wreak havoc not only to an individual but a whole community. His novel The Scarlet Letter expresses this idea by exposing the follies of mankind and the often detrimental effects of sin through the character Hester Prynne, an adulterer who refuses to release the name of her lover.
Although Hawthorne does not condone adultery–thus his inclusion of the moral, religious Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale character,–he never says he condemns it. Rather, his main focus is on the hypocrisy of Hester’s Puritan community. Throughout the book, Hawthorne points out that everyone has faults and flaws. He shames the actions of the Puritan community and how they isolate Hester and Pearl. In ‘The Governor’s Hall,’ Hester and Pearl are walking to Governor Bellingham’s house when some children see them and say to each other that they should ‘fling mud’ at the ‘woman of the scarlet letter…the likeness of the scarlet letter running along by her side’. Hawthorne demonstrates to his audience here how deeply this unfair stigma has penetrated the town–it has gone so far as to affect children, who are usually seen as symbolism through The Scarlet Letter of innocence and kindness within the Transcendentalist movement. Even though Pearl has done nothing wrong, the children still view her as a product of adultery and attack her. The irony is that when the children throw mud at Hester and Pearl for their sins, they do not realize they are sinning themselves by assailing another person. This may be due to their internalization of the town’s beliefs, as children’s minds are not yet full-grown and are thus susceptible to the adult influence around them.
After Hester leaves Governor Bellingham’s house, Mistress Hibbins pokes her head out of the window and asks Hester whether she ‘wilt…go with [them] to-night’ to the forest because she ‘promised the Black Man’ that Hester would come. This presents yet another case of irony, as it appears at first glance that Mistress Hibbins is making a mockery of Hester and accusing her of witchcraft; however, as the reader later learns, Mistress Hibbins is not so innocent herself. Despite this, the townspeople fail to condemn her or bring her to trial due to her high stature in the community as the governor’s sister. Hawthorne criticizes the town’s actions by contrasting her situation with Hester’s. Even though witchcraft is considered worse than adultery within this society, nobody does anything because Mistress Hibbins is important. Whereas, they isolate Hester and her daughter for seven years for a much more forgivable crime because she is not in a high position within the community.
Hawthrone has written interesting commentary that is both relevant to the Puritan age and the modern one as well. Today, people can often be hypocrites when judging others’ sins, failing to realize that they have themselves. Hawthorne realizes this and clearly demonstrates it in his work. He conveys to the readers, through Hester, the power of how one’s response to sin can either change an individual for the better or gradually destroy them by spreading like a contagious disease that ultimately consumes the victim.