The Scarlet Letter - Dimmesdale’s Dilemma


Adultery was one of the worst sinful acts in Puritan times. As one of the Ten Commandments, this sin was punishable by death at extremes. Puritans believed that marriage was sacred and believed that illicit fornication would lead to corruption, and believed that these actions should be punished severely. In The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale commit adultery. While Hester was caught and tried for her sin, Dimmesdale managed to escape accusation; therefore, he received no punishment for sinning and this troubles Dimmesdale to the point where he begins to punish himself for sinning. While confessing his sin would bring relief at first, Dimmesdale, in the long run would suffer more from this confession.

Suffering from the guilt of not being caught for his sin, Dimmesdale is suffering both mentally and physically. Finding a way to lessen or eliminate this pain would make him a healthier person. Dimmesdale takes this emotionally pain and inflicts physical pain - such as whipping himself and starvation - to try to lessen him suffering. Until Dimmesdale tells the town of his sin, he will never be able to live with himself. If he were to tell the town of his sin a large weight would be lifted off of him and he would be able to return to his normal state of mind for a short time. This great relief would sweep over him and help to return him to the man he once was. If Dimmesdale no longer felt this guilt he would cease the self-inflicted pain upon himself thus making him a much healthier man. Relieving the suffering inside of him would bring a calm sense to this troubled man, but unfortunately it would not last.

If he were to confess his sin, the scorn directed at Mr. Dimmesdale, the town’s pride and joy, by the town’s people would destroy him and he would slip back into his pit of anguish. Every day of his life, Arthur Dimmesdale would be reminded of his sin and would be told of a grim fate awaiting him in hell. This torture would be rough on any person let alone someone as holy as Dimmesdale. This new suffering would tear at him just as his prior guilt did; however, now instead of only his own judgment, Dimmesdale would have to face the entire town. The original reason the Arthur Dimmesdale feels that he needs to punish himself is the guilt he feels for his sin, but now he would plunge back into this despair. The new guilt he would feel would tear him apart, and he would begin to punish himself again. These habits will destroy Dimmesdale and would make him much worse off then he was originally.

Telling of his sin is what would relieve Dimmesdale of his guilt for this horrible event that occurred; nevertheless, the new suffering Dimmesdale would feel will create more problems then he previously had. The unbearable scorn of the townspeople would be too much for Dimmesdale to handle and he would eventually lose all sanity. While he is punishing himself now, things can only get worse. Puritan beliefs on the issues of marriage and sex are very strict, but these views are very understandable from certain perspectives. To commit adultery is a horrible sin and it can ruin lives just as it did in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

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