On what pages are sin and evil personified in The Scarlet Letter?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nathaniel Hawthorne's seminal work, The Scarlet Letter clearly has parbolic character.  With Hester's child, Pearl, one is reminded of the New Testament's "pearl of great price" as Hester's shame and punishment are brought on by the birth of her daughter.  Thus Pearl becomes a symbol of the sin of passion between Hester Prynne and the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. This "elf-child" who like a valuable pearl has a beauty that shines with deep and vivid tints.  Yet, she is referred to by the Puritans as a "demon offspring," and perceived as the child of sin.  In Chapter VIII, Hester pleas with the governor to be allowed to keep her child.  She protests,

"Pearl keeps me here in life! Pearl punishes me too!  See ye not she is the scarlet letter...."

Reverend Dimmesdale supports Hester by saying,

"It was meant, doubtless, as the mother herself hath told us, for a retribution too; a torture to be felt at many an unthought-of-moment; a pang, a sting, an ever-recurring agony, in the midst of a trouble joy!" 

The man who devotes his life to avenging himself upon the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, the man who "violates the sanctity of the human heart" in his efforts to destroy the man--"he will be mine!"--transforms himself into what he himself says is "a fiend," and becomes a personification of evil.  As he insidiously destroys the inner workings of Dimmesdale's heart, Chillingworth becomes a dark and craven figure.  He sins against Nature in his violation of Dimmesdale's heart," and he sins against Hester when he married his young, passionate wife as he could not be a husband to her. He admits his sin in Chapter XV,

"Mine was the first wrong, when I betrayed thy budding youth into a false and unnatural relation with my decay."

His sin that he commits against Dimmesdale is what Hawthorne calls the "unpardonable sin."  This sin is the subordination of the heart to the intellect, occurring as Chillingworth is willing to sacrifice his fellow man to gratify his own selfish interest.  These sins of Chillingworth are parabolic in nature, as well; for, they illustrate two Biblical injunctions, "Judge not lest ye be judged" and "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord."  Chillingworth tries to play God, but transforms himself into a devil.  By Chapter IX this transformation is evident (in Chapter XIV it is complete):

A large number...affirmed that Roger Chillingworth's aspect had undergone a remarkable change while he had dwelt in town, and expecially since his abode with Mr. Dimmesdale.  At first his expression had been calm, meditative, scholar-like.  Now, there was something ugly and evil in his face, which they had not previously noticed, and which grew still the more obvious to sight the oftener they looked upon him.

Symbolic of the kind of passion which accompanies Hester's sin, Pearl is a constant reminder to Hester of her sin.  Roger Chillingworth transforms himself in his desire for vengeance into an evil being whose sin is the blackest of all.



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The Scarlet Letter

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