The Power of Secrets in The Scarlet Letter


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The Power of Secrets in The Scarlet Letter

 

 

        Deception is defined by Webster's Dictionary as the art of

misrepresentation.  Throughout the history of mankind, the use of deception

to promote oneself to a higher level, or to hide one's past, has been a

common occurrence. In the novel The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne ,

Chillingworth and Dimmesdale both use deception to hide secrets  from each

other, and from the rest of the town.

 

 

        Hester Prynne is the only one who knows the secrets that Dimmesdale

and Chillingworth are hiding from the townsfolk.  Hester has to control her

desire  to tell the truth and practices the art of deception  to hide these

secrets.   When she will not reveal  the father of Pearl,  Reverend

Dimmesdale says, "She will not speak."  It is  ironic that the person who

committed the sin with Hester is the one who announces publicly  that she

will not reveal the name of the other sinner.   Later, Chilling worth wants

to know who it is and he says, "Thou wilt not reveal his name?"  Hester

refuses and continues to hold her silence.  Then Chillingworth, still

trying to find out the name of her lover, comments, ". . . but Hester, the

man lives who has wronged us both! Who is he?"  When he says this, he is

hinting that he is going to do something to Dimmesdale.  This is why Hester

makes Chillingworth promise not to kill her lover if he finds out his

identity.  Chillingworth deserves to know  who slept with his wife,

although Hester should not have had to tell him.  I think that Dimmesdale

should have admitted that he was Pearl's father. Today, if a priest

admitted such a  crime, he would probably be sent to jail. However, in the

novel, had  Dimmesdale confessed, the  townsfolk would have liked him even

more. Hester also has to live with, and conceal, the secret that the

scholar, Chilling worth, is her husband.  When he comes to visit her in

jail he says, "Thou hast kept the secret of thy paramour.  Keep, likewise,

mine!  There are none in this land that know me. Breathe not, to any soul,

that thou didst ever call me husband.

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"   Hester shows great strength of

character by her ability to keep the secret identities of her lover and her

husband.  There must have been times when the temptation to reveal her

secrets was overwhelming.

 

 

        Dimmesdale chooses to conceal his guilty secret from the townsfolk,

but this causes  great personal suffering and the gradual deterioration of

his health. He shows  that he is having trouble dealing with his sin when

he keeps his hand over his heart to hide an imaginary "A" on his chest,

just like the one embroidered  on Hester's bodice.  Dimmesdale believes

that everyone can see this imaginary "A".  This is shown by the  quotation,

" Mr. Dimmesdale was overcome with in a great horror of mind, as if the

universe were gazing at a scarlet token on his naked breast, right over his

heart."  This feeling of guilt is a very natural one that we have all

experienced some time in our lives. The irony of the situation is shown by

the quotation, "People say, that the Reverend Master Dimmesdale, her godly

pastor, takes it very grievously to heart that such a scandal should have

come upon his congregation."   Dimmesdale is so successful at hiding his

secret,  that the townsfolk believe that he is shocked that a scandal could

happen in his congregation.  As a clergyman, Dimmesdale is aware of the

mental torture caused by guilty secrets.  He describes  these feelings with

reference to his parishioners, but they could easily be applied to himself,

" they shrink from displaying themselves black and filthy in the view of

men;....... So to their unutterable torment, they go about among their

fellow- creatures looking pure as new-fallen snow; while their hearts are

all speckled and spotted with iniquity..."  Finally,  Dimmesdale cannot

live with the secret any  more, and confesses his sin before the townsfolk,

 "Hush, Hester, hush!.......The law we broke! -- the sin here so awfully

revealed!".   It is interesting that Dimmesdale is convinced that there is

an "A" on his chest.  Was this "A" carved in his flesh by his own hand, was

it placed there by God , or was it just in his imagination?  We will never

know the answer to this question, but I think that Hawthorne meant it to be

an imaginary "A".

 

 

        Doctor Chilling worth, knowing that he has been betrayed, dedicates

seven years to identifying his wife's lover.  The reader first learns of

this when Chilling worth says to Hester, ". . . but Hester, the man lives

who has wronged us both! Who is he?"  Chillingworth has already decided to

find this man and to torture him.  When he realizes that Hester will not

tell him who it is, he  says, " He bears no letter of infamy wrought into

his garment as thou does; but I shall read it in his heart."  He believes

that he will identify this man by the  the sign of his sin embedded in his

chest, like the "A" on Hester's cloths.  This literary foreshadowing hints

that the secret will have something to do with the word "heart."  Whenever

the author talks about the "A" or about Hester, not referring to Dimmesdale,

he uses the words " bosom" or "chest".

 

 

        In the novel The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Reverend

Arthur Dimmesdale and Doctor Roger Chillingworth hide  secrets from the

other characters.  Hester Prynne is the only character who knows about

these secrets.   Dimmesdale and Chilling worth are masters in the art of

deception.

 

 

 


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