Who commits the biggest sin?

Published 15 May 2017

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter” is an exploration on how people deal with the concept of “sin” in their lives. Even in some of the earliest literatures like the Bible, sins and sinners have been a common topic for discussion. In this novel, the readers are presented with various characters, which have committed sinful acts at some point of their lives. The novel presents us with lovers whose sin was to fall in love with each other while they are in a wrong situation. The society marked this sinful act as adultery: both lovers have to repent and suffer for this sin for a very long time. The biggest sin committed in the novel however, was not by the lovers, but by the woman’s estranged husband. His sin was to think ill of other people, to the point of harming and killing them. His sin was not anchored on his love for the woman, but on his hatred towards the lovers. He was seeking deliberate destruction through illicit forms of knowledge. There are various identifiers on who committed the biggest sin in the novel. The biggest sin was identified because of the sinner’s intention. It could also be identified by the lives these sinners lived, whether it is a life of repentance or a life filled with hate. Finally, the most important identifier for the biggest sin is the sinner’s determination to make up for these sins.

The first identifier for the biggest sin was the sinner’s intention when he committed that sin. In the novel, the sinners were the lovers Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, and Hester’s estranged husband, Roger Chillingworth. Roger Chillingworth faces the biggest sin in the novel because of his intentions in when he committed the sinful acts. His primary sin was to think evilly of his wife and her lover, with intentions of harming them both and murdering them. Roger Chillingworth represents true evil, with his intentions purely on the deliberate destruction of others rather than correcting other’s mistakes. He is also associated with the use of illicit forms of knowledge like his various chemical experiments and illegal medical practices that can be associated to witchcraft and crimes like murder. In Hawthorne’s 8th chapter entitled “Another view of Hester”, he stated that “Hatred, by a gradual and quiet process, will even be transformed to love, unless the change be impeded by a continually new irritation of the original feeling of hostility” (Hawthorne Chapter 8). This means that people who feel hatred may eventually outgrew hate, transforming it into love and acceptance. However, there are truly some who cannot do so because they are constantly thinking of the irritation it brings, thus awakening the original feelings of hostility. This is manifested by Roger Chillingworth, who intends to have his revenge no matter what it takes.

With the Roger Chillingworth’s life intension based on revenge, he fits in as the biggest sinner on another identifier. This one is based on the life that each sinner lived, whether it is a life of repentance or a life still full of hate. Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale lived a life of repentance, wherein they both bear the scarlet letter in their chests. Dimmesdale was able to conceal it, since he holds an important position in the church. For Hawthorne, concealing the mark won’t change anything: “Ah, but let her cover the mark as she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart” (Chapter 2). The mark they carry is a sign that they are bearing the pain of their sins anywhere they go. Their suffering is a proof that they bear it deep within their hearts. On the other hand, Roger Chillingworth is living a life full of hatred, wherein he is more concerned with revenge rather than fixing the matters with his wife and her lover. He is bent on destroying those who he thinks opposed him. With his life so full of anger, it is almost impossible to make amends with a person like him. As a husband, Roger Chillingworth was really neglectful, yet he expects that his wife would love and care for him. Despite the mistakes that Hester made, she was still willing to make up for all her sins. This is the final identifier for the biggest sin committed in the novel, which Roger Chillingworth still fits in.

The final identifier for the biggest sin is whether or not the sinner is doing anything to make up for his mistakes. It is important to know whether or not the sinner is determined to make up and correct his mistakes. According to Hawthorne, a sin is like an ailment; “A bodily disease, which we look upon as whole and entire within itself, may, after all, be but a symptom of some ailment in the spiritual part” (Chapter 10). Hawthorne allusion to a disease means that it can be cured. He even emphasized that it could just be an ailment of the spiritual part, wherein it could be remedied by spiritual healing, by the repentance being made by both Hester and Arthur. On the other hand, Roger Chillingworth has made no efforts to change his ways and redeem his sins. Instead, he kept on spying on the two, and scheming on how he would be able to get even with Hester’s betrayal and adulterous acts with Arthur.

Roger Chillingworth committed the biggest sin in the Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, “Scarlet Letter.” This is because he neglected his wife, that she sought the love from someone who can give to her. The only sin that Hester and Arthur committed was to fall in love at a wrong situation. Their sin was rooted on love, as compared to the sins of Roger, which are rooted to hate and destruction. The lovers lived a life of repentance, while Roger lived a life full of hate. Above all, Roger didn’t show any efforts to change his way and make up for his mistakes.


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