Tryon Edwards once said, “Sin with the multitude, and your responsibility and guilt are as great and as truly personal, as if you alone had done the wrong.” Everyone sins, and everyone has been guilty of sin. Guilt can even drive people insane. In The Scarlet Letter the three main characters, Reverend Dimmesdale, Hester Prynne, and Roger Chillingworth, are portrayed as sinners. However, some sins are greater than others, and Nathaniel Hawthorne demonstrates this through the different sins of the main characters.
Hester Prynne is the first character that is introduced as a sinner. She sinned by committing adultery. She is put on the scaffold with her baby, Pearl, to be shamed by the community (Hawthorne 50). Later in the novel, she realizes that she, along with her daughter, will always be an outcast. She decides to move to the outskirts of Boston (79). After moving away the skill of being a seamstress is acquired. Her talent is needed among the people in her community. They ask her to sew many different things for them. However, she is not allowed to sew a bridal veil, for she committed adultery and went against her vows in marriage. She was married to Roger Chillingworth and committed her sin with Reverend Dimmesdale. She never really felt guilt for her sin. The scarlet letter and Pearl always reminded her of her sin. Hester believes that Pearl is a blessing and a curse. She says, “I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned from this! … this badge hath taught me--it daily teaches me--it is teaching me at this moment---lessons whereof my child may be the wiser and better, albeit they can profit nothing to myself” (107). She promises to teach Pearl the meaning of the scarlet letter. Also, the people in the community made her an outcast so that she was still reminded of her sin. Despite constantly being reminded of her sin, Hester never felt remorse for what she had committed. Her sin never impacted her. She should be forgiven because her act of sin was caused by passion. And since her sin was done purely out of passion, never to hurt anyone, I believe that her sin was the least great.
Later in the novel, we find out for sure what Reverend Dimmesdale’s sin is. He committed adultery with Hester, and he is the father of Pearl. Nobody in the community recognizes Dimmesdale as a sinner because he is a preacher. And for a very long time, he keeps his secret to himself. After a while, his guilt starts to eat him up inside. He can no longer keep his secret without being punished. He starts to punish himself by staying up all night, fasting, and whipping himself. “His inward trouble drove him to practices more in accordance with the old, corrupted faith of Rome than with the better light of the church in which he had been born and dead … He thus typified the constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not purify, himself” (141). The tapestries in his room show David and Bathsheba, from the Bible, who also committed adultery(122). These are a constant reminder of his sin. His sermons get more and more powerful, and the congregation still does not realize that he is a sinner. At the end of the novel, Dimmesdale confesses on the scaffold. While he is in front of the whole community, he stands on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl and confesses his sin (247). The guilt that had been killing him for years finally kills him as he yells out that God is great and good (252). Dimmesdale shouts out, “God’s eye beheld it! The angles were forever pointing at it! The Devil knew it well, and fretted it continually with the touch of his burning finger! … God knows; and he is merciful! He hath proved his mercy, most of all, in my afflictions …” (250). Reverend Dimmesdale should be forgiven for the same reason that Hester should be. He committed his sin out of passion. He never had the intention to hurt anyone. In the end, the only person he hurt was himself. Dimmesdale’s guilt was the worst. He felt this guilt because he was the preacher that was supposed to tell the community to repent for all sins. He could not repent because he never exposed himself to the public until he confessed before death. I believe that Dimmesdale’s sin was slightly greater than Hester’s, even though it was not the same sin because he was never able to gain redemption.
While we are still trying to learn what Dimmesdale’s sin is, we learn what Chillingworth’s sin is. After Chillingworth realizes that Dimmesdale has a secret sin that he is hiding, he begins to take revenge on Dimmesdale. He promises to take care of Dimmesdale while he is sick. But he only tortures him through his medicine. He tries to make Dimmesdale tell him what his sin is by telling him about the weeds. Chillingworth found weeds in a cemetery that were growing out of a man’s heart. “Even in the graveyard here at hand … They grew out of his heart, and typify, it may be, some hideous secret that was buried with him, and which he had done better to confess during his lifetime” (127). He explained that the weeds grew there because of the guilt the dead man had from not confessing a sin. However, this analogy did not get Dimmesdale to confess his sin. Along with constantly causing Dimmesdale guilt for his sin, he also took revenge on him by hurting him. Chillingworth’s medicine never helped Dimmesdale. All he wanted to do was hurt Dimmesdale and make him miserable. He never had guilt because his intentions were always to hurt Dimmesdale. He only wanted revenge. He never seeks redemption until the end of the novel when he gives land to Pearl after he dies. I believe that Chillingworth is the worst sinner because his sin was committed to hurt another person.
Some sins are greater than others. Hester and Dimmesdale had the least great sin of adultery because it was committed out of passion. Roger Chillingworth’s sin was the worst because he intended to hurt another person. Everyone commits sins throughout their lives. Even though some people may not possess guilt with a sin, that does not mean that the sin is not great.