Cowardice and torment

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    美国文学课程论文 201378

     英语1 郭亚恒 1015010115


    Title: Cowardice and Torment

    ——An analysis of the cause of Dimmesdale’s torment in The Scarlet Letter

Thesis statement: Minister Arthur Dimmesdale standing on a holy position is

    tortured with cheating that he is afraid of admitting having a love affair with Hester, a

    married woman because of his own cowardice.

I. A brief introduction

    II. The performances of Dimmesdale’s cowardice.

    A. His fear to confess in public

    B. His fear to face himself

    III. The origins of Dimmesdale’s cowardice.

    A. Puritan morality

    B. His human nature

    IV. Conclusion

    Cowardice and Torment

     An analysis of the cause of Dimmesdale’s torment in The Scarlet Letter

    Abstract: Hawthorne is one of the most significant writers of the romantic period in American literature. His famous work The Scarlet Letter describes a love tragedy in

    the Puritan society in the colonial period. This paper deals with analyzing the cause of the main character Dimmesdale’s suffering life for his own cowardice and learning

    the relationship between life and human nature.

    Key words: cowardice, Dimmesdale, torment, nature

    I. Introduction

     Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of the greatest novelists, short story writers in the world, is the first American writer of fiction who discovers American literature in its inwardness. He takes a great interest in history and antiquity. His major themes are the effects of hidden sin and guilt, destructive impulses of human mind uncontrolled by the emotions of heart as can be found in his famous work, The Scarlet Letter. He is

    also a master of symbolism. Through symbolism and allegory, Hawthorne interweaves the emotions of his characters with the impact of their surroundings. Most of his metaphors and similes are stirringly fresh and effective.

     Hawthorne’s dark, brooding, richly symbolic works, reflecting his Puritan heritage and contrasting sharply with the optimism of his contemporary Transcendentalists, achieve a depth and power that make them one of the great legacies in American literature.

     The Scarlet Letter narrates a love affair between three people happening in Boston in 17 century. The main character Hester Prynne married with a disabled scholar Roger Chillngworth. But she did not love him. Later, Hester and the young minister Arthur Dimmesdale fell in love with each other and they have a daughter of their own. Hester was punished by society with a letter A on her chest for their love was forbidden and considered an evil, a shame. However, Dimmesdale did not admit he was the father of the child and lived a painful life during the following years. He also endured the hurt from Hester’s husband who pretended to be a doctor and friend of Dimmesdale. Finally, the two people decided to run away, but they failed. After

admitting what he had done, Dimmesdale died in the arms of Hester.

     There are many researches concerning the book. Most of them are about the meaning of the scarlet letter, the analysis of the characteristics of the main characters, the symbolism in the book, etc. Also, feminist is a more discussed topic. This paper focuses on one of the main characters Dimmesdale to analyze the cause of his confliction and suffers concerning his human nature and religious sense. II. The performances of Dimmesdale’s cowardice.

    A. His fear to confess in public

     For seven years, Dimmesdale has many opportunities to confess himself to conclude his torment in his heart. But he doesn’t. There is a scene in Chapter 3 where Dimmesdale states: “Hester Prynne...If thou feelest it to be for thy soul's peace, and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer! Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so than to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him-yea compel him as it were-to add hypocrisy to sin?

    (Hawthorne, 2007:74) He is right standing near Hester, but he is afraid of telling the truth. On the contrary, he tries to persuade Hester to announce his name. That is really an ironical picture.

    More examples to show his cowardice is Dimmesdale’s reveal at night. In Chapter

    12, Dimmesdale cannot stand for hiding the secret in his heart. When he comes across Hester and Pearl in the night, he tells them to come up hither and stand with him. Pearl inquires, "Wilt thou stand here with Mother and me, to-morrow noontide? (Hawthorne, 2007:172) But Dimmesdale refuses, "Not so, my child. I shall, indeed, stand with thy mother and thee one other day, but not to-morrow." (Hawthorne, 2007:172) His choice to acknowledge his sin at night not during the day time is the representation of his weakness. He is fear of the reaction of the public.

    B. His fear to face his sin

     Dimmesdale holds the secret for seven years. He would rather suffer from the

    guilty and pain of his sin than declare what he has done. He covers himself in the name of God and refuses to suffer any public humility or embarrassment. He commits adultery with Hester, but fails to deal with the trouble he makes. He feels guilty about his behavior; however, he is unable to confess his sin even though his confession is the only way for him to get rid of the torment.

    III. The origins of Dimmesdale’s cowardice.

    A. Puritan morality

     Puritanism is the practices and beliefs of Puritans. The Puritans were originally members of a division of Protestant Church. As the word itself hints, Puritan wished to “purify” the corrupted Church of England. They were a group of serious, religious people, advocating highly religious and moral principles. Puritans accepted the doctrine of predestination original sin and total depravity, and limited atonement through a special infusion of a grace from God.

     Dimmesdale was a young respected minister at that time. He was very popular among people and almost everyone believed what he said. People were willing to follow him and consider him almost sinless, the perfect role model. At the same time, religious ideas have rooted in his mind and he was clear about his social status. Although he desires to confess himself, his holy position and strong religious belief make him retreat. He attributes his love for Hester is to betray God. Therefore, concerning his career and steadfast religious ideas, he was afraid of his natural desire to be realized, so he tries to hide it. Moreover, he is afraid of how the public would view him.

    B. His human nature

     A man’s nature includes two sides: good and evil, light and dark. Dimmesdale faces a war in his heart. His good nature approves of confessing his affair with Hester, yet his dark side made him weak and refused to public his sin. Throughout most of the novel, Dimmesdale seems to be forced to hide his guilt of having affairs with Hester and lives a painful life. In fact, he is not being forced by anyone, but himself. Because he is a weak powerless person who lacks of courage, he fails to acknowledge his sin and suffers from the guilty for God, for Hester and for the public.

IV. Conclusion

     Throughout the work, Dimmesdale’s suffering life is a tragedy for people, but his

    torment is caused by himself. On the one hand, he is invested with fear, cowardice, and inability to confess his sin, leaving him a powerless and weak man. On the other hand, his profound religious achievements and holy position give him a great pressure. In short, human nature is one of the determinants in one’s life. Nobody but oneself

    can save.

    Works Cited

    Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and

    Research Press, 200774, 172.

    Kester, Ellen S. Study Guide for The Scarlet Letter. New Jersey: Silver Burdett

    Company, 1982.

    Ruland, Richard and Malcolm, Bradbury. From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A

    History ofAmerican Literature. London: Routledge, 1991.


    魏晓红?《英美文学自主学习与实践》? 天津?天津大学出版社?2011.

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