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What is the meaning of this passage from The Scarlet Letter's Chapter XXIV: "Be true!...

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d529mr | Student, Grade 10 | eNoter

Posted October 18, 2012 at 1:42 AM via web

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What is the meaning of this passage from The Scarlet Letter's Chapter XXIV: "Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst be inferred!"?

Is there any specific meaning to this?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 18, 2012 at 4:37 AM (Answer #1)

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This passage from "Conclusion" in The Scarlet Letter is a statement of the moral directed to the reader by Hawthorne himself.  After the scarlet letter A is revealed on the chest of the dying minister, speculation about it begins among the congregation. As narrator, the author refers to the hypocrisy of Dimmesdale which has haunted him and caused the greatest damage.  Had the minister admitted his sin, then he could have prevented the vengeance of Chillingworth; and, had Hester been "true," Dimmesdale would have been informed about the physician's intent toward him.  But, all have been false. 

Hawthorne's emphatic message of the importance of admitting one's mistakes and allowing all to see one's worst traits is central to the narrative of The Scarlet Letter.  Secret sin with its hypocrisy is clearly damaging to the soul.  Dimmesdale has become overly-anxious and disturbed by his guilt; he has even scourged himself in punishment for his sin. With his evil intentions of revenge against the minister, Chillingworth has transformed into a devilish character, one who is disturbed psychologically as well as spiritually. Now an old man, Chillingworth dies shortly after the minister, a victim of his own hatred. All these consequences could have been averted, Hawthorne states, if the characters had been true to themselves. This is why the author exhorts his readers to be honest and show themselves as sinners to the world: "Show freely to the world...some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!"

When, therefore, Hester returns from England to the Puritan community, she takes up the scarlet letter from her threshold and resumes the wearing of it, so that all may know her as

As woman stained with sin, bowed down with shame, or even burdened with a live long sorrow.. 

Hester is "true," and she lives an honest life, having taken up her "long-forsaken shame!" After some years, the letter becames less of a stigma and more of something to be mourned after than anything else.

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