The Scarlet Letter

Hypocrisy in The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter, a classic novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, paints a vivid picture of hypocrisy in action. The story is set in a Puritan society, a community steeped in religious righteousness, yet marred by duplicity and deceit.

Hester Prynne: A Paradox of Love and Deceit

Hester Prynne, the protagonist of the story, is a character imbued with contradictions. She professes love for Arthur Dimmesdale, yet remains silent as he is slowly tormented over the years by guilt and regret. Hester’s silence allows the mental and physical deterioration of Dimmesdale under the manipulative influence of Roger Chillingworth. This paradoxical love paints her as a hypocrite.

Moreover, her ability to confess and atone for her sin of adultery contrasts sharply with her steadfast silence about her lover’s identity and Chillingworth’s real identity. This silence is a sin in itself, contributing to the suffering of Dimmesdale and further entangling her in the web of hypocrisy.

Hester’s love for her daughter, Pearl, is also tainted by hypocrisy. She sacrifices for Pearl’s well-being but denies her the presence of a father. Hester’s love for Dimmesdale and Pearl, while seemingly profound, is marred by her inability to act in the best interest of those she loves.

Arthur Dimmesdale: A Hypocrite in Disguise

Arthur Dimmesdale stands as a symbol of hypocrisy. Despite his theological brilliance, he is a fool when it comes to recognizing and confronting his own hypocrisy. Dimmesdale, a highly respected minister, harbors a grave sin, making his weekly sermons on sinfulness a mockery of his position and faith.

Dimmesdale’s love for his community, like Hester’s love for Pearl, is limited. He does not have the courage to confess his sin, hence depriving his community of spiritual guidance. His inability to confess his love for Hester and acknowledge Pearl as his child further demonstrates his hypocrisy.

Also Read: Symbolism of Isolation in The Scarlet Letter

Dimmesdale’s attempts to atone for his sins in private, through self-flagellation and fasting, are futile. He knows that only a public confession can absolve him, yet he chooses to suffer in silence. This internal conflict between his guilt and his need for public approval makes him a hypocrite of the highest order.

Roger Chillingworth: A Vengeful Hypocrite

Roger Chillingworth, initially a man of intellect, is driven by revenge after discovering Hester’s infidelity. He pretends to be a friend to Dimmesdale while methodically inflicting mental torture on him. His thirst for revenge overshadows his scholarly pursuits and turns him into a manipulative hypocrite.

Despite realizing the extent of his malevolence, Chillingworth continues his vengeful mission, further demonstrating his hypocritical nature.

Puritan Society: A Breeding Ground for Hypocrisy

The Puritan society in The Scarlet Letter is a paradigm of hypocrisy. While advocating forgiveness and tolerance as per the Bible, the society is quick to punish and ostracize Hester for her sin. The construction of a prison as one of the first structures in the new settlement further underscores this hypocrisy.

The society’s religious fanaticism is also a source of hypocrisy. The Puritan’s zealous adherence to their faith blinds them to their own shortcomings and sins, leading to a distorted interpretation of divine will.

Conclusion: The Scarlet Letter of Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy, in essence, is the major theme in The Scarlet Letter. The characters, despite their outward piety and righteousness, are riddled with deceit and duplicity. Hawthorne’s portrayal of these characters offers a critique of the Puritan society and the inherent hypocrisy within it.

This hypocrisy, while being a product of the characters’ individual failings, is also a reflection of the society’s flawed moral and religious principles. The Scarlet Letter, therefore, stands as a timeless critique of hypocrisy and a call for sincerity and authenticity in human relationships and societal norms.


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