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Hawthorne's intrusion into the narrative in the final chapter when he exhorts his readers to
"Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait wherby the worst may be inferred!"
indicates his insistence upon responsibility for one's actions.
While Hester Prynne is compelled to take this responsibility for her sin of adultery by the placement of the scarlet letter upon her bosom, she does take the initiative in accepting responsibility in other areas. For instance, in Chapter V, Hester remains in the community because she feels a personal responsibility to be around to support him. She also feels that she should remain in the Puritan community because there she will
purge her soul, and work out another purity than that which she had lost: more saint-like, because the result of martyrdom.
Likewise, Hester feels that it is her responsibility to care for Pearl because
"Pearl punishes me, too! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter...so endowed with a millionfold the power of retribution for my sin?"
Although the Reverend Dimmesdale hides his sin and does not take responsibility publicly at first, he does feel guilt. He punishes himself in Chapter XI as the medieval monks did. However, he does not take responsibility despite his longing to speak out from his pulpit,
"I, your pastor, whom you so reverence and trust, am utterly a pollution and a lie!"
In the dark of night in the second scaffold scene, Dimmesdale privately takes responsibility, asking Hester and Pearl, who happen to pass by, to stand with him on this platform of ignominy. However, when Pearl asks him if he will stand with them tomorrow, the minister tells her, "Nay; not so, my little Pearl."
But, over the course of the night, Dimmesdale realizes that he can no longer live with his secret sin. In Chapter XXIII, the minister steps onto the scaffold, inviting Hester and his daughter Pearl to stand with him. Seven years later, the minister confesses his sin and takes responsibility for it, tearing away his vestment to reveal the stigma of his sin,
"...Now at the death-hour, he stands up before you!....He tells you..with all its mysterious horror, it is but the shadow of what he bears on his own breast...Behold!...."
The only responsibility that Chillingworth takes may be at the end when he leaves money for Pearl. Otherwise, he is consumed with the sin of revenge until Dimmesdale dies; even then, he does not repent.
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