How does Hawthorne use irony with regard to Dimmesdale's sin?I am writing an essay on The Scarlet Letter and I need some help figuring out why Hawthorne used irony.  More specifically, why he...

How does Hawthorne use irony with regard to Dimmesdale's sin?

I am writing an essay on The Scarlet Letter and I need some help figuring out why Hawthorne used irony.  More specifically, why he used Dimmesdale's sin to show irony.

Asked on by mj3

1 Answer | Add Yours

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

At the end of The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne explicitly states the theme of his seminal novel:

Be true!  Be true! Be true!  Show to the world  your innermost self....

Hawthorne's narrative, which is an indictment of the consequences to the soul of the stern ideology of Puritanism contrasts the character of Hester Prynne, whose sin is made public to the character of the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, whose sin is secret.  The irony of Dimmesdale's character is that it is the truth of his sin that he hides which makes him revered in his community; it is the truth of his secret sin which he tries to confess before his congregation which causes him to be perceived as an almost ethereal model of purity.  And, yet, most ironically, it because of the secretiveness of his sin that Dimmesdale is tortured and ultimately destroyed as his guilt ravages both his body and his soul. 

Unlike Dimmesdale, who deteriorates as the narrative progresses, the publicly scorned Hester Prynne adjusts to her life and performs good deeds, aiding the sick and comforting the dying.  She is an exemplary mother, as well.   While she has suffered and lost her beauty, Hester still has a productive life through her performance of good deeds. This example of Hester's repentance and acquiring goodness through acts of charity is counter to the Calvinistic/Puritan belief that good deeds do not have value; it is faith alone that will admit one to heaven.

And, in Puritanism since some are among the "elect" and some among the "damned," Dimmesdale and others who sin must keep their transgressions secret, living a life of hypocrisy.  However, as the reader perceives from the character of Arthur Dimmesdale, this life of "secret sin" is fatal and tears at the very fiber of the soul as one must fear being found out and one must hide guilt.  Thus, with Hawthorne's theme that the ideology of Puritanism is one that forces its believers to be false, he decries the stringent beliefs of Puritanism through his use of irony with the character of the Reverend Dimmesdale.  For, in its severity to make believers adhere to spiritual laws, Puritanism ironically causes them to hide their sins and be hypocritical since no human can be faultless. 

 

 

We’ve answered 318,944 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question