How does N. Hawthorne present the problem of sin and expiation in The Scarlet Letter?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As narrator, Hawthorne cries his theme in his concluding chapter: 

Be true!  Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!

It is the recognition of sin that makes one human, for secret sin destroys the sanctity of the soul.  This hypocrisy leads one to only an abyss of sadness.  In his secret sin of revenge and desire to make Dimmesdale his victim, Roger Chillingworth becomes "a fiend" who finds only a "black blossom" in his heart.  And, in his secret sin of hypocrisy, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale who cannot until the end take the hand of his living conscience, Pearl, is destroyed by his hypocrisy:

No man, for any considerable period can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.

Only Hester Prynne, who is ignobly scorned and humiliated and "branded" with the scarlet letter, lives genuinely.  Her quiet strength and unselfish activities gradually make her less of an oddity and pariah in the community and the letter upon her bosom is reinvented or reinterpreted as meaning Able or Angel. Nevertheless, the scarlet letter "has not done its office."  Hester Prynne has not shed her pride, her independence, her sense of the need for a mighty change in womanhood.  She has shed only her sin, rendering the single letter meaningless. 

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