If we do something good we are usually happy and in a good mood. However, if we do something bad, we often regret it, showing remorse for it, and act to avoid doing it again. But psychologically do we punish our selves? If so, do we do it consciously, or does our subconscious get the best of us and start to change us? Piece by piece the guilt will eat away at us, changing us physically and psychologically, changing our interactions with others, and our basic way of life. The Scarlet Letter relates how acts of sin and repentance cause great psychological changes which affect peoples physical appearance and behavior.
Hester Prynne sinned once, but once was enough to change her for the rest of her life. Hester committed adultery with Reverend Dimmesdale and was punished by the town, which made her wear a scarlet A upon her clothes and stand in front of the whole town on the scaffold. Hester also punished herself. She isolated herself from the town and repented her sin for the rest of her life. Hesters self-inflicted punishment was a good punishment, though.
She admitted her sin and got it off her conscious. She did not try to hide or run from her sin, because she knew that she could not escape it. She knew that the only way the sin would be removed from her was with time and repentance. Wheeler 2Here, she said to herself, had been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment; and so, perchance, the torture of her daily shame would at length purge her soul, and work out another purity than that which she had lost; more saint-like, because of the result of martyrdom. (Hawthorne 57)Later Hester leaves Boston with Pearl, but returns after Pearls marriage to repent her sin because once again she feels she cannot escape it.
Because of this psychological barrier she puts on herself, Hester physically transforms herself to play the part of the sinner. Even the attractiveness of her person had undergone a similar change (113). She dressed herself in dull colors and hides her rich and luxuriant hair (113). She put her heart into repenting her sin, Hawthorne demonstrates this through the scarlet letter. Not a stitch in that embroidered letter, but she has felt it in her heart (39). There are times where Hester feels hurt and considers leaving, but deep inside she knows that she is a sinner and she wants to repent for it.
A big part of her generous character and the interactions with others comes from how she sees herself and what she does about it. Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale also sinned but, unlike Hester, he did not get caught. Hesters character and mentality comes from being able to share and repent her sin. Dimmesdale, on the other hand, hides his sin for seven years.
He is tortured by his conscience and inflicts punishment upon himself. To repent he plies a bloody scourge to his shoulders, fasts until he gets weak, and keeps himself up at night thinking about his sin and the fact that he is the reason Hester has been punished (101). Wheeler 3Throughout the book, Dimmesdales character mentally gets weaker and weaker. This is partly due to him not being able to fully repent his sin, but also because of Chillingworths torturing him with his knowledge of the sin.
During the seven years after his sin Dimmesdale gets physically weaker too, he starts walking slower, looking sicker, and putting his band over his heart more often. His hand over his heart represents a scarlet letter for him too, only his is hidden because he does not have the strength to confess. Hawthorne never actually reveals if there was actually something over Dimmesdales heart, but if there was, it was the effect of the ever-active tooth of remorse, gnawing from he inmost hear outwardly (178). Dimmesdale never actually fully confessed to adultery, he was much too weak psychologically.
He did hint many times and indirectly say it, but never said exactly. When he died it ended his torment. He couldnt go on any longer, keeping his secret inside destroyed him physically. In The Scarlet Letter we see Hester and Reverend Dimmesdale go through immense physical and psychological changes caused by sins they had committed, However, we see Roger Chillingworth change mainly physically, but psychologically too in a huge way. but because he sinned by tormenting others.
In the first description of Chillingworth he is slightly deformed in one shoulder, but by the time of his death he seemed to have shriveled away and almost vanished from mortal sight, like an uprooted weed that lies wilting in the sun (179). The whole purpose of his life was the pursuit and systematic exercise of revenge on the man who wronged his wife (179). The longer amount of time he has been chasing and tormenting Dimmesdale, the more he Wheeler 4starts to look deformed, and the more he starts to think and act like Satan. Had a man seen old Roger Chillingworth, at that moment of ecstasy, he would have had no need to ask how Satan comports himself, when a precious human soul is lost to heaven, and won into his kingdom (96-97).
He feeds his energy off of getting revenge on Dimmesdale and once Dimmesdale dies he has no purpose left to his life. He loses all his energy, he get even more deformed and eventually dies, never having repented for his premeditated sin. Psychologically everyone ends up getting punished for their sins. Hester was allowed to repent openly and her punishment was not as harsh because she admitted to it. Dimmesdale was not allowed to repent openly but knew that he had sinned so his punishment was self-imposed. Chillingworth was strictly punished by higher powers because he just kept knowingly sinning and wouldnt even think twice about it.
The psychological punishment affects daily life for the rest of their lives, even if its not a conscious effort. Wheeler 5Works CitedHawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Four American Novels. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc, 1959.