Tragic Hero in The Scarlet Letter

In this historical fiction novel, The Scarlet Letter (1850), Nathaniel Hawthorne presents the story of a woman who is viewed as an outcast in the puritan society because of a sin. She has committed adultery, though it takes two to commit the sin, she decides to put the blame on herself. Due to this, she was publicly shamed and forced to wear the letter “A” on her chest as part of her wardrobe. This letter stands for “adultery” and a constant reminder of her sin.

But even after all the humiliation she experienced, she does not want to reveal the name of her accomplice. Pearl, being the beautiful product of the sin causes Dimmesdale to be reminded of the sin. Guilt overpowers his conscience making it unbearable to live with. Once he builds the courage to talk to the people who look up to him he dies a repented man, a clean slate so he can be with god as a pastor.

The scarlet letter provides us with Dimmesdale as the tragic hero, whom struggles with guilt and betrayal to society due to his actions. Hawthorne portrays this theme with the uses of allusion, symbolism, and irony.

The scene that most critically emphasizes the theme of the novel is the 3rd scaffold scene that starts with election day sermon, inspirational speech from Dimmesdale about the relationship between mankind and God yet irony ending with the revelation of an act of treachery and his death. Hawthorne narrates what is going on and describing him as if he was god talking to his disciples.

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Spreading inspiring and powerful words to his followers, though it was as if it would be the last time. They all felt like someone was going to pass away. Leaving this great last impression, Hawthorne compared him to an angle of truth and immediately changed him to a pale color to emphasize the seriousness of what is going to happen next. When Dimmesdale approaches the scaffold he becomes weaker, unable to sustain his own weight. Though he fights against it, he is still unable to do it on his own and asks Hester to help him support himself of her. In the most dramatic scene where he is unfolding his chest towards the people and they imply that he has the scarlet letter on his chest where the light shines upon it. When he finally reveals that he is the father of pearl, he is in his last moments and begs pearl to give him a kiss, and she happily give him a kiss and he dies.

Throughout the novel, Dimmesdale experiencing a hard time due to his actions. Living for seven years in silence, meanwhile all the fingers were pointed towards Hester. Hawthorne uses allusion to reveal the hypocrisy and selfishness behind what he did. Ironically Dimmesdale was the minister of the town and greatly respected, yet he had the biggest secret of the town. Leading the town to think, that if Dimmesdale, being the minister of the town lives a secret life than anyone can. Making sinfulness as an inescapable element as a human. The novel focuses on four main characters; Dimmesdale, Hester, Chillingworth, and Pearl, which is closely related to a biblical story of David and Bathsheba. The story is about King David and Bathsheba. King David saw Bathsheba, a married woman bathing and was instantly enamored by her features and ordered to have her taken to his place where he would sleep with her. Bathsheba gets pregnant and King David sends he husband out to be the head of a battle where he is killed. Then finally King David marries Bathsheba. The prophet Nathan suspects on the king and asks what he has done to Bathsheba. This biblical story is a direct representation of The Scarlet Letter.

Chillingworth as the prophet Nathen, trying to find who was Pearl’s father. Dimmesdale as king David whom has a baby with Hester, a married woman, and Hester as Bathsheba. Not only is this the only way that this biblical story come up, but in the beginning of the novel Hawthorne described Dimmesdale’s home and specifically brought up a painting that he had on his wall. This painting was a described as a story from the bible of King David and Bathsheba. Clearly, we can see how The Scarlet Letter constantly brings up biblical references. For instance, pearl the daughter and representation of Dimmesdale and Hester’s sin. Jesus tells his disciples that “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who when he found one pearl of great price, went and sold all he had and bought it.(Matthew 13:45)” Relating this to the book pearl is constantly seen negatively since she is the constant reminder of their sin. Like Jesus said “sold all he got and bout it” basically saying they you must give up everything you have to get the pearl. Since the beginning Hester gave up her reputation and her life for pearl. She never denied her and kept and loved her because that was he only treasure she had. Though, Dimmesdale lacked his treasure to get closer to gods kingdom. Once he finally revealed to the town that he was pearls father, she kissed him as a sign of forgiveness and he dies, making this scene meaningful. Representing that once he gave up his life of what people thought of him and came clean, he got the pearl and dies to be with god in his kingdom. Pearl was the big price or most precious thing for both, and was Hester’s heaven on earth making her life better and tolerant. Since Dimmesdale came confessed, the spell was broken. Pearl was finally able to be a real human being and loved by others. Pear was able to live a happy and normal life now that she was recognized by everyone.

The major theme in The Scarlet Letter is the consequences that come because of our actions that built throughout the novel where it leads to a tragic death. In this instance keeping a secret or a sin for selfish matters to protect one’s reputation though leading to one’s own destruction. The betrayal to society is what makes the feeling of guilt stronger and hypocritical. The author used this theme because he wanted people to relate as much as possible. Although the novel talks about adultery, the main focus is committing a sin and the consequences it brings upon us.

Since the beginning of time, humans have been taught what is right from wrong and loyalty to one’s self. This is a main focus depending on your morals and believes. When Adam and Eve where removed from The Garden of Eden for taking in the prohibited fruit that they knew was evil and reviled each other’s humanness. There are temptations and committing a sin is a part of life, but confessing is something that not everyone is willing to do. The consequences that come with this sin is of course guilt but also the harm it brings to yourself, whether it be physically, or mentally. Now there are systems like jail and punishments for people who commit a crime and pay for what they have done, but when it come to a sin that regards faith, that is different circumstance. Either you confess what you have done and take the responsibility for it or you live your life knowing what you have done in guilt.

In the article, Arthur Dimmesdale as Tragic Hero by Bruce Ingham Granger (1964) focuses on the controversy of who is the main character of the novel The scarlet letter. Granger discusses his opinion of Arthur Dimmesdale as the main character of the novel although many would say otherwise, he thinks that reflecting back on the novel, Dimmesdale has the main part. In this article granger talks about the way characterization arises in the novel to describe Arthur Dimmesdale as a tragic hero. Dimmesdale has the role of someone who learned the lesson in comparison to Hester, who was a main character but no the main character. Hester does face some situations that were critical in the novel but Dimmesdale is the character that is has a reflective role in his actions.

It is safe to agree with Granger in his article about Dimmesdale as a tragic hero because a tragic hero is someone how has made a mistake and inevitably leads to their destruction. Dimmesdale has made the mistake to not accept his child for 7 years, leading to his sickness. He has become sick from the heart and knows he is dying. His sickness can be related to his mistake which has heart him physically, mentally, and emotionally which lead to his reveal in the 3rd scaffold scene. He did his “triumphant” speech that which was amazing and glorious, leaving the people astonished. Then it focuses on him trying to fix the mistake he did 7 years ago of not recognizing his daughter because of his reputation. He learned from what he did and took the consequences needed to repair his soul as well.

Some may still agree that Hester is the true main character because the conflict is built around her yet when he dies everything’s starts to fall in place. He was the main reason why the things arose in the first place, because Hester wouldn’t have to endure the shaming on her own and pearl would have had a normal life. Concealing his secret for that long lead to his tragic destruction at the end yet with the use of symbolism we understood that though he did die, he was able to make peace with god and be a pastor with him.

In this poem, the poet Blake uses symbolism, imagery, and wordplay to portray the theme of the fruit of revenge and sin as it grows over time and over powers mankind. In this poem, the fruit represents the anger, revenge, and sin that one stores and grows from time to time as it is concealed. This fruit grows and gets brighter as it is “watered” by the anger and negative feelings. The poem starts by explaining the way anger works: basically, a friend angry with another friend and when communication is there, then the anger is worked out and resolved but when it is kept, then it only just grows. “Night and day” represents the time it takes to build up to what it has now become a big and bright apple. The word choice that the author uses as “bright” to describe the apple and create imagery gives the reader a sense of attraction but also hinting that it is poisonous. Besides the title stating that the apple is poisonous, concluding from previous knowledge, it has come up that bright colored nature things are usually a hint of poisonous and dangerous. The poet Blake uses “friend” and “foe” instead of using negative term to address his victim since he is talking about anger and revenge, and ‘sunned it with smiles” meaning he was faked his friendship, and hid his anger with smiles and friendly talks. In this case “watering” it would be like “adding fuel to the fire” which means it will only grow as long as it has a source to feed on.

Towards the end the poet says that his “friend” saw the apple and new it was from him yet he still reached out to get it. In this part the act of temptation and knowing that it is wrong yet that “wrong” is valid and over powering. For example, a reference from the bible of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit. Where they were told they could not take it, yet temptation over powered them and went on and ate the fruit. In this case, the friend died from taking the fruit and the speaker seems happy. As if he was waiting for it and revenge has finally taken its place.

In this poem it is focused on sin and revenge towards a friend, which is what the novel The Scarlet Letter builds on. The character Chillingworth can be related to the speaker in this poem as he is focused in seeking revenge on the father of pearl. He believed that it was unfair for Hester to be the only one to be looked down upon while her selfish partner hides their identity to protect their reputation. Chillingworth suspects on the minister of the town and decides to live under his shadow as his doctor or “friend.” As he is lets time pass his feelings only get stronger and his life is not revolved over this idea of revenge.

Though the novel does not take the same rout as the poem, they both end with death. In the novel, Dimmesdale knows he has done wrong to hide all these years and wants to come clean because it is only eating him away. In the poem, the “foe” stretched out to get the apple of revenge, but in this instance, Chillingworth tried to stretch towards Dimmesdale to stop him from coming clean, as this was his fruit of revenge. by stopping him he wanted to reveal Dimmesdale’s secret later where he would be shamed just like Hester was, seven years ago. Though Dimmesdale knew his intentions and nothing was going to stop him from coming clean. Revenge is a sin that has no measures and can lead to something tragic and both the speaker of the poem and Chillingworth are unaware of the consequence it can hold.

The poem and the novel reveals the consequences of keeping things in for a long time. Dimmesdale kept his secret for seven years and his conscience could not take it anymore. The feeling of guilt would only grow as time passed. He knew that God sees and knows everything so there was no point in hiding, and the only way to remedy what he has done is by confessing his sin> confessing his sin is basically what the poem said about communication. As long as there is communication then the anger will die. Confessing is the way he can make peace with himself and god in his last hours of death.

With all this in consideration, the use of sin and guilt played an important role in the poem and novel. Dimmesdale as the tragic hero led to the repentance and soul purity at the end as he was at a clean state. The article emphasizes, the style Hawthorne used to build characterization of the main character to portray the them.

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Tragic Hero in The Scarlet Letter. (2021, Apr 20). Retrieved from

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