“You are free to choose, but you are not free to alter the consequences of your decisions.” ― Ezra Benson. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter, the struggle to take off the weights of the past is an important theme throughout the novel. Two of the main characters, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, both stagger under the heavy guilt and shame brought upon them by society and by themselves due to having committed adultery. Hawthorne shows the consequences and lasting effects of their sin through the way they each handled their own “scarlet letter”.
Hester Prynne’s shame derives from the treatment she receives from the Puritan society she lives in, which strongly impacts her life. Hester is publicly seen with the scarlet letter when she first emerges out of the cold, desolate prison, and is looked upon “like a black shadow emerging into sunshine (79). All who came to see Hester’s release were focused on what she was wearing upon her bosom, an ornament “surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A”. The scarlet letter is what isolates her from everyone else because it symbolizes sin itself. Stripped of her pride and livelihood, Hester is forced to live in isolation with her newborn daughter, Pearl. The shame that is associated with Hester's immorality remains with her as a reminder of her sinful actions.
Unable to express herself freely, Hester "might have repaid them all with a bitter and disdainful smile. But under [her own mask], she felt at moments as if she must need to shriek” with all her might (87). Furthermore, Hester's ultimate consequence due to her sin is her daughter Pearl. Though much of the society shuns her very being, Hester is willing to go out into public and show her scarlet letter without shame even though she is still condemned. Hester also acts compassionately towards others and this allows her to live her life peacefully and raise Pearl.
Although Hester and Reverend Dimmesdale both committed the same sin, Dimmesdale’s guilt is not due to external factors like Hester’s experiences, but it...