The Scarlet Letter: Evil of Isolation
In the New Testament it states that “the wages of sin is death.” Though
the penalty of sin in The Scarlet Letter is not a termination of life, the evil
of isolation can be a physically, morally, and socially tortuous event in
Puritan society. Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet
Letter, are both victims of the cruel isolation from Puritan society on the
basis of their sins. Hester wears her sin upon her breast where it stands as a
constant reminder of her malfeasance. Shame and isolation strip her of all
passion and femininity, leaving her a shell of her former self. Though Arthur’s
mark of shame is not visible, it is all the more tortuous for its absence. Shame
and guilt feed upon Arthur’s soul with slow malevolency. Only a combination of
death and confession finally release Arthur from his torture.
Though Hester’s ostracism from society and the tortuous nature of her
shame, Hester is stripped of all passion and humanity. Since society
acknowledges Hester’s sin, she becomes an exile in her own town. “All the world
Has frowned on her,” and Hester must bear the brunt of her shameful isolation.
When Hester walks through her town “a sort of magic circle forms itself around
her.” Devoid of any social contact, save that of her daughter, Hester must
endure of lonely existence. “In all her intercourse with society, save that of
her daughter, there was nothing that made Hester feel as if she belonged to
it.”; therefore, she turns to herself for reflection of her shame. When Hester
must walk through the town, she suffers “an agony from every footstep.” Frequent
suffering does not inure Hester to her inner torment; instead, the same grows”
more sensitive with daily torture.” Hester’s ostracism from a stoic society and
the burdensome nature of her shame, deprive her off life. Treated as a dangerous
delinquent by society, Hester begins to question her humanity. Due to her
intense suffering, “some attribute departs from Hester, which had been
essential to keep her a woman.” Stripped of her passion and femininity, Hester
is left as an iron character with a solemn manner. Hester’s shame remains to
haunt her until her dying day.
Reverend Dimmesdale’s bought with the evils of isolation is distinct
from Hester’s due to the fact that his sin remains a secret from the public.
Tormented by his grievous sin and the duplicity of a fraudulent lifestyle,
Dimmesdale’s physical stature is destroyed. Arthur Dimmesdale is “a man burdened
with a secret” that haunts his daily existence. The only truth that continues to
give Arthur Dimmesdale a real existence “was the anguish in his inmost soul.”
Arthur wears “his hand over his heart” an indication of his shame eating away at
his soul. In addition to the torture Dimmesdale endures from his shame, he
constantly suffers from the fraudulent duplicity of his lifestyle. To his
congregation, Arthur wears a mask of purity, however, Arthur realizes the
blackness of his sin in private. Dimmesdale endures a constant “bitterness and
agony of heart” from the “contrast between what he seems and what he is”
Due to his multiple lifestyles, Dimmesdale is often “bewildered as to which may
be true.” The sum of Dimmesdale’s torment is manifested in the form of a “bodily
disease,” which serves to deteriorate the reverend. Dimmesdale is only able to
find peace in death and confession. Revealing his sin to society, he frees
himself to advance toward God’s judgment.
The evil of isolation of Puritan society robs Hester and Dimmesdale of
their humanity, leaving them as stone monuments of shame. The isolation of
Puritan society is a result of their belief that “the wages of sin is death.”
Only in death do Hester and Dimmesdale escape the anguish that arises from
isolation. However, the infancy remains as their “only monument” after death.
The destructive nature of shame is a powerful weapon.