MORAL AND ETHICAL ISSUES IN THE SCARLET LETTER
Major characters are Hester, Pearl, Dimmesdale, Chillingworth. The Relationship between Hester Prynne and Reverned Arthur Dimmesdale. Topic: Describe the relationship between Roger Chillingworth and Because he is a pastor and he trust the god and always want to god to. Roger Chillingworth was self-reliant in his torment of Arthur; Roger felt it was However, Hester Prynne is the best example of a self-reliant character, in relation to essay that an individual should be true to themselves and trust themselves.
Dimmesdale, without the advice or help from anyone, tried to find a form of penance so he began to physically torture himself. Dimmesdale did these horrible acts because of a feeling of worthless. He felt that he deserved even more punishment because of the extra sin of concealing his original sin. Hester, at least, did feel needed or loved by Pearl, which kept her from many other terrible sins, and she did not have the extra tormenting sin to carry, which shows that she suffered less. Dimmesdale possessed only one thing, which was his suffering.
The crime was his life because it seemed everything revolved around it. This sin and his suffering had taken over his life; he had nothing else.
Suffering can be the most terrible when in comes from your conscience. Dimmesdale had a terrible, undying guilt, which followed him everywhere and never quieted. Dimmesdale said that once the extra sin of concealing the original sin is gone the load on the conscience lessens relieving the guilt and suffering.
Hester did not have these additional burdens of guilt and suffering as Dimmesdale did. It tortured him to see people love him. Hester did not have this pressure and conflict within her conscience as Dimmesdale did because she had nothing to hide. His guilt was so strong that it almost made him go mad and brought him great suffering.
His guilt was mentally torturing him and drove him to despair. The uncontrollable helpless feeling of despair brought Dimmesdale immense suffering to the point where he almost lost his mind. Dimmesdale, unlike Hester, had an undying guilt that would forever torture him until his death. Morally blameworthy people have clearly un-thing-like traits, such as desires and the power to make choices. However, so far as they are blameworthy, the desires and choices involved are bad ones.
There are many aspects of Hester's identity with which the Puritan crowd would sympathize if they could be vividly aware of them but, to the extent that their attitude is one of moral disapproval, they lack the necessary awareness.
Their attitude transforms her into something with which sympathy is not possible. Now, by bringing together various things I have said in this section, I can attempt a formulation Hawthorne's alternative to Smith's fourth thesis.
Moral disapproval prevents human contact with the person of whom one disapproves. It does so in two ways: First, such disapproval is essentially hostile in nature and, consequently, tends to prompt the person disapproved of to withdraw from the one who does the disapproving.
Second, it constricts the apparent identity of the object of the disapproval to features with which it is impossible to sympathize. This principle calls into question the efficacy of the moral method of regulating conduct.
The reason it does so is represented by Hester's eventual fate. The presumed function of her punishment, as of moral penalties in general, is to bring a wayward soul back into the fold, to teach her to follow the rules that bind these people into a community. And yet the immediate effect of this punishment - and this, once again, is a characteristic it shares with moral penalties as such - is to exclude her from the society in which these very rules have life and power.
In that case, what are the prospects that this method will work? As often happens, that depends on what one's purpose is. Hawthorne tells us bluntly that, seven years after the first scene on the scaffold, "the scarlet letter had not done its office" pmeaning that it had not accomplished the purposes of its Puritan perpetrators.
Because of her separation from society, there is little in her life that provides occasion for passion and feeling, and so her life turns, "in a great measure, from passion and feeling, to thought" p.
Consequently, she becomes "little accustomed, in her long seclusion from society, to measure her ideas of right and wrong by any standard external to herself" p. As a result of these factors, Hester strays into a "deadlier crime" p. When she sees Arthur Dimmesdale in Chapter XII, in the second scene that takes place on the scaffold, she is shocked by his psychological dilapidation.
It gives her a "new theme of reflection" p. The results of these further reflections are the heresies she expounds to him in their subsequent meeting in the forest. The most startling of these is her claim that the crime they had committed together "had a consecration of its own" p.
She has pronounce adultery to be holy. So much for the success of the community's attempt to teach her the wickedness of her act. The outcome of Chillingworth's plan provides a grim contrast here.
His plan, as I have said, is to stay close to Dimmesdale in a position, simply, of closely attentive watchfulness. His hope is that he can cause his enemy painful harm simply to know what he is, that even if poor Dimmesdale has no detailed awareness of his situation, he will still sense a malignant presence nearby, eating away at him. This hope is fully realized. While what the community does to Hester is a failure in their terms, what Chillingworth does to Arthur is a success in his.
The main reason seems to be that Chillingworth labors under a distinct advantage: He seeks only to damage and destroy. The Destruction of Dimmesdale When Hester meets Arthur during the second scaffold scene, she is shocked to find that he has somehow been reduced to a mere shadow of what he once was.
What is left of his "moral force" is "abased into more than childish weakness" and grovels "helpless on the ground" p. Exactly what has reduced him to this pitiful state?
The easiest answer would seem to be that he is a sinner and, according to Hawthorne, this is what sine does to one if one does not exorcise it by confessing and accepting punishment.
The Scarlett Letter and Self Reliance - words | Study Guides and Book Summaries
At the very best, this answer is incomplete, since it leaves unexplained a factor which it identifies as crucial: Why doesn't he confess? More important, the only cause it names is obviously insufficient to produce such a horrible effect. As Dimmesdale himself tells Hester: I might have found peace, long ere now".
The mere fact of being an unconfessed and unpunished sinner does not account for what happens to him. He explains it by saying "whatever of good capacity there originally was in me, all of God's gifts that were the choicest, have become ministers of spiritual torment.
That, as I say, is Dimmesdale's explanation. Hawthorne's explanation can be seen as a demythologized version of it. He tells us that there is "no state of society" in which Dimmesdale would "have been what is called a man of liberal views," adding that "it would always be essential to his peace to feel the pressure of a faith about him, supporting, while it confined him within its iron framework" p.
He acquires his faith from the world around him in the way that conventional people absorb the conventions they find ready at hand. Since the only important regulations and principles in his social system are moral ones, he is a merely moral man, in the sense that he sees the world entirely through moral categories.
If Dimmesdale's own character is what lies behind his destruction, then the Puritan morality, as the foundation of his character, stands at the beginning of the entire ugly process, as its prime mover. We can gather from Hawthorne's narrative a fairly clear account of how this process works itself out.
Because Arthur perceives the world entirely through moral categories, he must see himself in just the same way as the crowd perceived Hester in the first scaffold scene: If it is terrible to be viewed in this way by others, it must surely be worse to see one's own self in this way. If consciousness becomes painful, one can only endure by diminishing it somehow, either by the spectacular means of going mad p.
It is the latter course that Dimmesdale takes. He acquires "a ready faculty Indeed, he seldom even looks "straitforth at any object, whether human or inanimate" p. Apparently, for Hawthorne, it is impossible to impair one's mind with respect only to a single, narrowly defined subject.
To avoid awareness of one area, the mind's functioning must be damaged in some more far-reaching way. Although Dimmesdale's theoretical intellect is left intact for long discussions with Chillingworth on abstract subjects p. It is his crippled mind that makes it possible for Chillingworth to ruin him. He has a vague suspicion that Chillingworth is not to be trusted, but he has vague distrustful intimations about everyone: He cannot protect himself because he cannot trust his own thoughts.
His guilt ruptures his relations with the world and the people around him by preventing them from entering his mind clearly and distinctly. In his most characteristic gesture, he covers his heart with his hand as if to protect it from probing eyes. He is possessed by the fear of visibility, of the sense of exposure that is symbolized by the "too vivid light of day" that torments Hester in the first scene.
In his meeting with her in the forest, he finds, as she does, that no "golden light" was ever as "precious as the gloom of this dark forest" p. His desire to conceal what he regards as the single most important fact about himself, the fact that he is a sinner, results in a generalized desire for concealment as such. This fact yields a surprising conclusion when we combine it with one stated moral of the book, one among many possible ones, as Hawthorne tells us, but the only one he chooses to put "into a sentence.
It is plainly meant to be an ethical principle, a standard that distinguishes better persons from worse ones. It is a standard that Dimmesdale is violating, which would mean that he is a deficient person - not evil, perhaps, but not as good as he could be. Morality and Human Contact We can better understand the peculiar sort of devastation Dimmesdale's morality does by briefly turning our attention from him to his daughter, Pearl.
Her most striking trait throughout the story is her more or less complete obliviousness to the feelings of others, especially when she is in one of the wild moods in which she seems "entirely out of the sphere of sympathy or human contact" p. She appears to have more sympathy with natural objects than with people pp.
Nonetheless, it is possible to enter into a sympathetic relationship with her, but only, as her name suggests p. We are told explicitly what that price it. One day, when Pearl seems to have grown old enough to "be made a friend," she takes Hester's hand and stares with peculiar earnestness into her eyes, as if trying, "as intelligently as she knew how, to establish a meeting-point of sympathy" p.
She asks why Dimmesdale keeps his hand over his heart and what the letter on Hester's breast means. If this be the price of the child's sympathy, I cannot pay it!
When Pearl persists with her questioning, Hester threatens to lock her up in a "dark closet" p. A moment before, she was wondering whether a sympathetic relationship with Pearl might "soothe away the sorrow that lay cold" in her own "tomb-like heart" p. By threatening to shut Pearl away, she is confirming her own continued incarceration. In the second scene on the scaffold, Dimmesdale takes Pearl's hand and immediately feels a "tumultuous rush of new life, other life than his own, pouring like a torrent into his heart" p.
Again she asks a question: Will he stand with her and with her mother in the same place the next day at noon?
He answers that "the daylight of this world shall not see" them together p.
When he sees a strange light in the sky that reminds him of his guilt, he places his hands over his heart, making it impossible to hold her hand any longer. Again, her mood passes, and she explains why: For Hawthorne, as for Smith, sympathy is not a mystical power to divine the souls of others without the use of one's organs of perception.
One knows how it is with others through their expressing how it is. This is why full sympathy can only be had at the considerable price of self-revelation, or what Hawthorne calls truth. By avoiding truth and the boldness it requires, Dimmesdale is shutting himself out of the reciprocal relationship of sympathy and the healing consolation it could bring. There is another way in which Dimmesdale's morality promotes the destruction of his character. By blocking sympathetic relations with others, it also puts an end to a vital source of self-knowledge.
He can no longer accurately perceive himself in the eyes of others.
The relationship between Roger Chillingworth and Arthur Dimmesdale - Eddie Sun
All he can see there are the false images of himself that he presents to them. The result is a trait that one could think of as a sort of hypocrisy: His inflamed and tender conscience is able to regulate his outward behavior, keeping him in fact "safer within the line of virtue, than if he had never sinned at all" p.
However, it also drains the "strength or courage" p. In particular, it accounts for the fact that he does not restore truthful relations with the world by confessing his sin.
It is true, however, that he eventually does confess. In the third and climactic scene on the scaffold, just as he and Hester were planning to escape together to Europe, he ascends the platform and confesses his sin. Yet the strength that enables him to do this comes from a source utterly alien to his morality. Speaking from the scaffold, he tells the thunderstruck crowd that it is from Hester, his partner in sin, that he has sympathetically acquired the strength to do what he believes is the right thing p.
He had found this new strength in his secret meeting with Hester in the forest three days earlier. There, in a brief flood of sunshine, he finds himself for the first time in seven years "in the same sphere" p. Hester had been hoping that his new inner resources would give him the courage to escape with her, but he admonishes her from the scaffold that his strength must "be guided by the will which God hath granted" him p.
As we hear Dimmesdale's statements in the context of what we have seen of his inner development, they amount to an admission that, in order to accomplish the ends that his morality has set for him, he must tap sources of power from which that same morality systematically alienates him.
Originally, it gave him a task that is then made it all but impossible for him to fulfill. In Hawthorne's terms, this task, what might be called Dimmesdale's redemption, is only complete when he turns to Pearl and presents to her the fact that he has now paid the heavy price of human contact with her, saying "dear little Pearl, wilt thou kiss me now? Thou wouldst not yonder, in the forest! A spell was broken. The great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor for ever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it.
Dimmesdale's task is completed, not when he turns to the crowd, the representative of his moral code, but to the living issue of his sin, and then he accomplishes not merely his redemption, but hers as well. Tragedy and Utopia What Hawthorne has been saying about the ethical and psychological effects of Puritan morality have applications that are far wider than their implications for a discussion of the shortcomings of Puritanism. In the story as I have been reading it here, the factors that distinguish Puritanism from other forms of morality - including its asceticism, its rigorism, and the inevitable hypocrisy of any code that is as ascetic and rigorist and Puritanism is - have played no part at all.
What has brought about the effects Hawthorne describes is a collection of attributes that all moral codes possess, insofar as they are moral.
All such codes, in order to work as the framework for a community, depend on the sorts of penalties Hawthorne has described with such deadly phenomenological insight. If his account of these penalties is correct, then all moral codes tend to make visibility and self-awareness painful and costly. If he is right in his view of the nature of these costs, then if follows that all moralities tend to undermine the workings of sympathy. Given his implied psychological and ethical views about the nature of sympathy, it also follows that moral codes in general tend to undermine the accomplishment of their own ends.
Clearly, Hawthorne's account of the relationship between morality and sympathy contrasts starkly with the one given by Adam Smith. The most important contrast, one might say, is not with any one of the theses I have attributed to Smith, but with their general import.
One way to describe this general import would be this. Prior to our acquaintance with Smith's theory, sympathy appears to be passionate in that it is a capacity to feel emotions and autonomous in the un-Kantian sense that the exercise of this capacity is something we do on our own and not something that is imposed on us by other people.
On the other hand, morality, apart from Smith's theory, often seems to be something that is dispassionate as the cold judge of our passions and heteronomous in that most of our moral principles appear to be absorbed from the culture around us. The idea of the impartial spectator enables Smith to give us the impression that sympathy and morality are much closer together than they at first appear.
The impartial spectator is simply one of the functions of sympathy and has in some measure both of its immediately apparent characteristics. In serving as a foundation for moral rules, it enables Smith to build a conception of morality that is not dispassionate and not certainly heteronomous - in Smith's view, the individual builds morality in the same way that according to a simple sort of empiricism a scientist builds science.
The effect of the argument of The Scarlet Letter is to deny the accuracy of the impression Smith gives us by undermining the importance of the impartial spectator.
As we read the first scaffold scene, we do not expect to see an impartial spectator emerging to preserve her judgments of herself from the terrific pressure of the crowd's moralistic loathing. We are not at all surprised when her identity simply implodes. Disturbing though it is, this fictional event resonates with much that we have learned of human nature, and from bitter experience.
It does not seem realistic to suppose that Hester can, as it were, divide herself into two parts and objectively assess the crowd's disapproval of her. This would mean that moral judgments against us on the part of other people carry more weight with us than Smith thinks. If this is so then, according to the case Hawthorne has built up, those judgments have a greater power than Smith can envision to drive us out of sympathetic relations with others.
It would also mean that morality is ordinarily more heteronomous than he thinks it is. Dimmesdale's response to the social world is, we feel, an omnipresent factor in all of us. If the impressions brought home to us by the fates of these two characters are correct, then morality interferes with whatever goods that can be secured through sympathy alone.
According to principles that Smith would admit, these would include the very foundations of self-knowledge and happiness. Smith connects sympathy with morality in the way he does in order to provide a foundation for morality. In setting these two things against each other, Hawthorne inevitable raises doubts in our minds about whether he is trying to disestablish morality, given that his attitude toward sympathy is clearly very favorable.
Is Hawthorne a sort of Romantic proto-Nietzsche? Actually, nothing I have said here commits him holding immoralist views.
He might be solidly in favor of both sympathy and morality. For instance, he might hold that morality is an indispensable necessity if human beings are to live together. Since living together is the only way for human beings to live at all, this would mean that morality is indispensable for life itself. On the other hand, he could also hold that sympathy is an important part of what makes life worth living. That is, he might believe that there is a certain sort of conflict between what makes life possible and what makes it desirable.
In that case, the tension Hawthorne sees between morality and sympathy would not represent a conflict between something good evil, so that it would make sense to be against one of them because one is in favor of the other, but rather a tragic conflict between things that are good. Conflicts that are tragic in this sense are typical of Hawthorne's point of view. When he writes of conflicts between values, as for instance between tradition and progress, or between pagan values and Christian ones, it is not typical of him to be in favor of one and opposed to the other.
It might be natural to see him at such times as afflicted, as his friend Herman Melville certainly was, with a tormented indecisiveness before the great questions of life. What if this is his attitude toward the relation between morality and sympathy? By a plausible association of ideas, it would yield a very important result: People with utopian views claim it is possible to possess a plan for a perfect society.