Who Wore the Scarlet Letter?

SEPT / OCT 2013: BY LINDY ABBOTT

scarletletter

Adultery is a sin that spreads its roots into many lives. If a pastor commits adultery he brings this sin upon the community at-large, himself, the woman, a child (if formed), the families, the church and God. In a pastor, one hopes she can trust her soul to be cared for as a shepherd tends his flock, to find a man who is responsible, gentle, fatherly, protective and providing. Young Hester Pyrnne (married to an elderly man but alone in a small early American community) is drawn to the Oxford-trained minister, Rev. Dimmesdale… a flaming hypocrite!

In writing about a villain, I wanted to find one that is less common or frequently overlooked. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel, The Scarlet Letter, many people pick Chillingworth (Hester’s husband) as the villain. He’s driven by revenge, a despicable and unworthy husband, yet Dimmesdale is the truest villain by displaying the hypocrisy of a “righteous” Puritan society. He had the letter inscribed onto his soul, hidden from everyone, while Hester was publically scorned—a reaction encouraged in the strict Puritan early American community.

The purpose of a pastor is to protect and nurture the eternal souls of those in his congregation. God entrusts him with this noble purpose. Yet Rev. Dimmesdale falls in lust and takes advantage of Hester. To me this is painful enough, but he becomes a greater villain in my eyes by being silent when Hester is publically accused and ridiculed. I abhor the sin of silence. An act of sinning is a sin of commission; the act of being silent is the sin of omission. Both are equally grievous sins in the eyes of God.

From the beginning of the novel, the entire town is in chaos over Hester, a mother to a fatherless child. She is disgraced for adultery, made to wear a letter “A” on her garment, and shunned by everyone. It’s hidden from even the reader that Dimmesdale is the father to her child. Sadly, even today a girl carries the burden of exposure and ridicule if she has a child out of wedlock because her sin can’t be hidden. Some men think it’s the price a woman pays for the chance she takes, so they bear no responsibility to her, especially if they have no emotional feelings for her. How sick this sounds and how sad! While the girl bears her shame in front of all, the man doesn’t have to confess publically. (Now a woman can avoid this through the sin of abortion! Hester couldn’t hide or abort it!)

Arthur Dimmesdale is a beloved pastor who preaches with eloquence and emotion. He seems to be a compassionate leader able to provide spiritual guidance. In the end when he tries to confess his sin in a sermon, the church believes it’s an allegorical testimony of a sinner rather than a confession. Dimmesdale’s silence in the presence of the public exposure, ridicule and punishment of Hester is what makes him a great villain. How unholy! How unrepentant! How un-useable by the Holy Spirit! How spineless!

Hester Prynne, wearer of a patch of fabric in the shape of the letter “A” that marked adultery, was a guilty girl married to an absent elderly scholar, Chillingworth. But as in life, a hidden sin is often much more serious than what is known. It goes on to create destruction: evil festering, growing and infiltrating more lives. One person cannot be a lone adulterer. It takes two to commit that sin. The Puritan community spends no thought or time seeking out the guilty man and Hester is unwilling to reveal his identity. Therefore Chillingworth does the duty that should be done by the entire community—seeking to find the responsible culprit who is hiding his sin. As holds true to many who try to discover the facts and root out deception, Chillingworth is seen as a revengeful, judgmental, and a very disliked man. He lurks in disguise seeking out the sinner. Undeniably he is despicable in his pursuit of Hester’s anonymous lover, but he alone searches for the truth.

It’s much like the female adulteress written about in the New Testament. Jesus saved her from being stoned by a mob of religious men. Again, only one person was accused and shamed—the woman. And it is with this in mind that Nathaniel Hawthorne crafts his classic novel by allowing Hester to make substantive observations about the treatment of women in such matters. Her elderly husband, who sent her to live in America alone and never followed her, carries the weight of her sin morally but not in the story. He is guilty of setting her up for temptation, which the Bible warns us against as husband and wife. It was during the time that she waited for her husband that she had an affair with Dimmesdale, which led to the birth of her child.

The townspeople spread rumors that the girl’s true father is the Devil, thus causing her also to be feared and shunned. This shows the handiwork of the Devil’s plan to destroy all lives. Not only does the sin destroy Hester, but her child’s reputation and well-being as well! We can learn much from this classic novel. It teaches us to be watchful of sin in our lives, to take personal responsibility, and to take responsibility for our sinful actions even if they aren’t evident to others. We must not think the greatest villains in life are those who are exposed, but look first within our own souls to examine “hidden” un-repented sins that provide a place for a deadly foothold to grow. In the end, Dimmesdale’s guilt of hypocrisy does lead to his death, though a careful observant reader would know they’d been watching this villain’s slow internal death throughout the novel.

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. Therefore, we should go to God, willingly confessing our sin to receive forgiveness. God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. By dealing rightly according to God with sinfulness, we are collecting potential testimonies to be used as trophies of grace for God. One can only imagine the outcome if Dimmesdale had openly confessed his sin when it mattered most! How could God have used his life’s testimony to bring about genuineness in the Puritan mindset?

But alas, this is simply a character of a novel… is it not? ♥

septoct2013

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