Student Question

What are the main conflicts in The Scarlet Letter?

Quick answer:

The main conflicts in The Scarlet Letter include man vs. society, as Hester is shunned for her sin and must bear her punishment alone. Hester and Dimmesdale also face internal conflicts due to their hidden love and guilt. Additionally, there is a man vs. man conflict with Chillingworth, who torments Dimmesdale upon discovering his identity.

Expert Answers

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There are several conflicts in the novel. The main one being man vs. society. Hester violated the rules of her society and is severely punished for her actions daily. She must bear the burden upon her chest as well as at her side in the form of Pearl. Her society shuns her and ensures that she is reminded of her sin.

Hester also suffers an internal conflict. She loves Dimmesdale and refuses to reveal his identity. She must keep his secret and bear the burden alone.

Dimmesdale as well suffers internally. He knows he shares in Hester's sin, but his identity goes unknown and his life and place in society is not affected. However, he must watch Hester suffer alone and he cannot ever act as a father to Pearl. It is evident that he loves Hester and is hurt when Pearl will not acknowledge him in the manner he would like. However, he must deal with those things if he wishes to keep his identity as the father a secret. To punish himself and deal with the emotional pain, Dimmesdale inflicts physical pain on himself. He also brands himself with the letter A that Hester must wear, but he does it on his bear chest where he alone can see it and suffer from it.

Chillingworth presents the man vs. man conflict. When he discovers who Dimmesdale really is, he slowly torments him by acting as his doctor. While saying he is helping Dimmesdale's ailing, he is actually trying to get closer in order to hurt him as well as Hester. If Dimmesdale will not reveal his guilt and bear the punishment, Chillingworth makes sure that he is suffering and paying for having been with his wife. 

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