Dominant Themes in a Novel The Scarlet Letter

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The theme of frustration and guilt is one of the dominant themes in The Scarlet Letter. There are many characters in the novel that experienced the horrors of guilt and frustration including Dimmesdale and Hester. Frustration is not only felt by Hester, but it also is felt by Dimmesdale intolerably. Even Hester is not free from it and how it makes her feel.

After many episodes, she finds herself frustrated for a while to when the citizens of Boston have planned for the removal of Pearl from her guardianship. The guilt that Dimmesdale feels throughout the novel is mentally tortuous and harmful. The worst kind of guilt for Dimmesdale is that though he knows he is sinful, he leads the life of a hypocrite that no one notices or understands. He does not speak about it to the public at all and try not to show that side of him to anyone.

Chillingworth’s guilt comes in many different ways. He has to live in regret of forcing his wife to marry him not out of love, but out of greed and possession. Chillingworth also calls himself Dimmesdale’s “friend”, but is really his worst enemy. Throughout the novel, it is obvious that his life is full of revenge against people who have done him wrong, but after Dimmesdale dies, he feels great misery for how he had treated him out of frustration. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter, the struggle to shake off the past is a very significant theme throughout the novel. Characters in this novel go through their lives struggling with trying to cope and live with the guilt and shame associated with actions that lost them their reputation. Overall, Hawthorne shows the lasting effect that frustration and guilt has on Hester Prynne, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth.

The theme of frustration and guilt is shown in the novel when Dimmesdale confesses by showing his own scarlet letter that has had carved onto his chest. Dimmesdale has lied with secrets and guilt No one in the town knows that he had played a role in Hester’s scandal and instead they think that he is still an extremely pure and honest man.

The strong difference between how Dimmesdale sees himself and how everyone else sees him is what leads to him always being tortured by guilt. In a later scene in the novel, Dimmesdale decides to confess about being a part of Hester’s immoral behavior, and let all of the frustration and guilt go. The song “Secrets” by OneRepublic relates to this scene because of Dimmesdale’s secret and the guilt and frustration that come with it. Lyrics such as, “Im gonna give all my secrets away this time, don’t need another perfect lie” (OneRepublic).

These lyrics talk about giving all of their secrets away and feeling relieved because they do not have to lie anymore. This relates to Dimmesdale in this scene because of his want to tell all of his secrets and not have to live with the guilt and frustration of lying anymore. Hawthorne’s tone in this scene is very direct and serious to show the townspeople’s reaction after Dimmesdale confesses about his secret to escaping from the frustration and guilt.

Dimmesdale partially wants to stop hiding and be honest about his past, but he is extremely sensitive to the public’s opinion and is terrified of the idea of being publicly shamed for his secrets. This song mainly focuses on the pain and torture that comes with keeping secrets and Dimmesdale connects to this moral of frustration and guilt that his secret makes him feel. This shows that his fear is still greater than the pain inside. Consequently, it will be too late when he finally does confess. In the end, what may seem like the easy way may have far greater consequences than the hard way when Dimmesdale chose the easy path and learned that the pain of guilt is far greater than the pain of shame.

The song “Human,” by Christina Perri connects to a very significant scene in The Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne is forced to bear the truth of her inappropriate actions in public, symbolized by the scarlet letter she wears on her chest. After the townspeople were aware of her actions, they shunned and avoided her at all costs. Hester, having lived among a Puritan doctrine for so long, cannot help but be influenced by it, and although her actions were done out of love, she does see her act as a sin.

A line in the song says, But I’m only human. And I bleed when I fall down. I’m only human. And I crash and I break down” (Perri). The main focus in this song is about stressing that people make mistakes, but have to take blame and accept their punishments. She knows what she did was wrong, and so she tries to seek a sort of forgiveness, but still is tortured by the guilt from her behavior.

Through all these actions, it is clear that Hester judges herself as a sinner, but not out of her own opinion, but out of the opinion of the townspeople and Puritan society. She is regretful to the puritan society, showing that even though she does judge herself, she does it because of her beliefs. Hawthorne’s tone during this scene is fearful and intimidated because of the fact that Hester will never live her sins down with the townspeople. The guilt that Hester feels during this scene and throughout the whole story is difficult in a way that she believes no one will understand but understands that her dishonor to society is immoral.

Hester starts by seeing her act as a sin that she regrets committing, but she changes and no longer feels sorry for the sin. Hester starts to see the act as not sinful, but she regrets committing it, and feels guilty for committing it. Hester does not try to hide from herself the fact that what she did was a wrongful act. She accepts that she has sinned and therefore she should be punished.


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Dominant Themes in a Novel The Scarlet Letter. (2020, Sep 21). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/dominant-themes-in-a-novel-the-scarlet-letter/

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