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The Hidden Sins of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Works

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Devyn Wilson

English IV

April 10th 2018

Essay 5

The Hidden Sins of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Works

Sin is a word that we should all be familiar with.  The word ‘sin’ was an old archery term that meant “missing the mark” so if we look closely into it religious wise, we then realize that God’s standard is perfection.  The word ‘sin’ comes from the word ‘Chatta’ah’, meaning sin is a weakness in character and the state of being fragile whether is mentally or physically.  We are much familiar with sin in the Old Testament.  A symbolic gesture of the first sin when Eve went against God and ate from the tree of knowledge.  In fact there are two other types of sin that go against God: Iniquity and then Transgression.  Exodus 34:7 “ Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”  

You might ask yourself how these words differ from each other when sin is still sin.  Iniquity is from the word ‘Avon’, meaning they were a penalty for death for these sins, such as murder.  The word transgression is from ‘Pesha’ meaning to resist authority and control.  If you ask yourself what is sin, its not doing what you were supposed to do knowing what one is supposed to do.  As we get older we come more accountable and responsible for the things we do. The more we tend to know about sin, the more God expects of us.  When we ‘miss the mark’ the sinners who do are usually aware to their fate.  Its just that God expects us to know what we have done.  For those who do not forgive with be thrown into a fiery pit of hell for eternity.  One author who uses dark romantics and sin is his works is Nathaniel Hawthorne.  

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4th in 1804.  He is known as one of the greatest American writers in history.   He was a novelist of the 19th century and has experienced with a lot of ways to write in his time.  He was an English Protestant and was the first out of his family to emigrate from England and settle in America.   His family had lived in Salem since the 19th century.  His father, Nathaniel Hathorne, was one of the judges at the Salem witch trials.  His father was also a seaman.  He had died of yellow fever during one of his voyages in Suriname. When his father passed away, Nathaniel's mother, Elizabeth Manning, moved her and her children all back to her parent’s house. After he graduated from Bowdoin College he then came back to his parents’ house and ‘locked’ himself in the attic for ten years to better his writing.  He was originally named Nathaniel Hawthorne, but added a “w” to his name when he began publishing his works to distance himself from that side of the family’s name.  He’s very much known for his stories such as, “The House of Seven Gables” which he wrote in 1850, “Young Goodman Brown” which he wrote in 1835, and “The Scarlet Letter” which he wrote in 1850.  

Now Nathaniel wrote all of his novels with a hidden purpose to it as it appears.  Nathaniel’s works were based mostly around sin.  As said previously Sin is described to be any act such as transgression of God’s divine law.  Any act that one’s conscious willfully made that person perform that violates religious or moral principle is sin to me.  The books that I will be writing about are all written by Nathaniel Hawthorne and I will break down the morals sins in each.

Sin has been here since the beginning of time and will remain with us forever.  Even before biblical times, people have had their own perception of sin.  In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Puritan times, sin was frowned upon and was punishable by death therefore people in that time knew to keep their sins hidden.  In the Scarlet letter, the main character Hester Prynne commits one of the biggest sins throughout the story. Committing sin and keeping that sin a secret can make a person go through great mental pain and corrupts the way they normally act just through worrying heavy on something.  

In this situation Hester isn’t alone, this sin is mutual. Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester Prynne are both sinners of adultery in this story.  In Chapter 14, line 18 says, "With the superstition common to his brotherhood, he fancied himself given over to a fiend, to be tortured with frightful dreams, and desperate thoughts, the sting of remorse, and despair of pardon; as a foretaste of what awaits him beyond the grave. But it was the constant shadow of my presence!—the closest propinquity of the man whom he had most vilely wronged!--and who had grown to exist only by this perpetual poison of the direst revenge! Yes, indeed!—he did not err!—there was a fiend at his elbow! A mortal man, with once a human heart, has become a fiend for his especial torment!" (14.18).  In this story, unlike Dimmesdale, Hester is forced by society to accept the fact that she is a sinner of adultery because of her daughter Pearl.  I feel like Nathaniel used Pearl in this story to constantly remind Hester of this sin.  Reverend Dimmesdale tries to stay calm about situation in the story, but keeping this sin a secret is causing his heath to plummet.  Hester’s husband, Roger Chillingworth has the sin of retaliation in this story.  While Hester is standing on the town’s scaffold at the market and refusing to name her child’s father, Roger sees Hester holding another man's child and immediately changes from a kind hearted person to an obsessed friend and starts seeking revenge.  Revenge isn't really a sin, yet the act of revenge is of sin. Hester was then taken down from the scaffold and is took to prison.  While in prison Hester is having a conversation with her husband.  She knows to not to reveal Dimmesdale’s real identity yet Roger’s intent was already clear to kill him.  After Roger moves in with Dimmesdale as his physician. Dimmesdale finally confesses, the secret in this is that when he admitted his sin he achieved a peace of mind.  The irony in Roger’s situation is that he wasted his life spending it trying to retaliate what Dimmesdale had done to him.  Hawthorne allowed the Scarlet Letter to be that one thing in the story that told the truth about each character’s true personality when sin came into place.  Most if not all of these sins weighed in on the Christianity faith.

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