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Guilt in the scarlet letter and the crucible


Scarlet Letter/Crucible Essay The presence of guilt has been felt by all human beings. As guilt grows in a person’s life it eventually begins to have a deteriorating effect on the individual. In both The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible more than one of the characters are experiencing some form of guilt and the effects of the public’s opinion on their own personal sins. Each character’s guilt originates from a different personal problem and with each character’s guilt comes a different reaction. Miller and Hawthorne use the source of guilt, the actions resulting from it and the eventual consequences to portray the concept of a guilty conscience to the reader. Each character’s guilt originates from a different source. Through different characters, Hawthorne and Miller display guilt and it’s source to the reader. In both The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible the use of relationships between a man and a woman are used as a primary source of guilt. Hawthorne uses Dimmesdale and Hester, and Miller uses Proctor and Elizabeth. The men in both cases are experiencing guilt involving mistakes made sexually. Dimmesdale, who is a highly respected priest has a sinful relationship with a married woman, and Proctor, a married man, falls for a young girl and commits adultery. With Dimmesdale, his guilt stems from the concealment of his sin. He watches Hester as she confesses and for seven years he agonizes over it, while he still remains innocent in the eyes of all. However with Proctor, he confesses to his wife right away. In an argument with his wife he says, "’ I should have roared you down when you first told me of your suspicion. But I wilted, and like a Christian, I confessed!"’(55). The guilt that Proctor feels comes, not from a secret that he is keeping, but from "’The magistrate that sits in his heart"’(55), as Elizabeth puts it. With the women in these relationships, their guilt has a less drastic origin. Elizabeth knows that she has not committed any sin that can compare to her husband’s, but she admits that "’it needs a cold wife to prompt lechery"’ (137). Even though John has committed the ultimate sin against her, she still finds it in her heart to take some of the blame off him and place it on herself. With Hester however, her guilt come from "’ the scarlet token of infamy on her breast and the sin-born infant in her arms "’(69). Her sin was already known and the only guilt that she felt was when she looked at her daughter or caught a glimpse of her letter in a mirror. The sources of guilt in the novels are not all the same, however in all situations, their guilt comes from some sort of sin, whether it be considered a sin in their heart, or in the eyes of others around them. As guilt exists in the lives of Hester, Dimmesdale, Elizabeth and Proctor, it brings them to respond to it in different ways. Dimmesdale’s guilt actually brings him to self destruction. His appearance begins to change drastically, he becomes pale and very sickly. He beats himself up inside and it was believed by some that he wore a scarlet letter "imprinted in his flesh"(240). So, not only was he scarred inside, but also outside. Proctor handled his guilt with a different approach. His actions towards his wife changed, in that he does nothing without looking to please her first. He hopes to gain her forgiveness in order to remove the weight off of his heart. The men in both situations are more dramatic and open with their guilt, however, the women keep it bottled up inside. Hester does nothing to express her guilt to anyone, and Elizabeth waits until she is about to lose her husband to openly display the guilt that eats her up inside. The reactions of each character’s guilty conscience differs, but through Hawthorne and Miller’s portrayal of it, the reader can see that with every kind of guilt, small or large, comes some sort of reaction from each character. The consequences that plague a guilty conscience depend on the severity of the conscience and the type of personality that the character has. In both of the novels, the consequences resulting from guilt are showed best through the two men. In Dimmesdale’s case, his guilt eventually condemned him to his grave. In most situations guilt isn’t that drastic, but in his case, seven years of self inflicted punishment was enough to kill him. Proctor, definitely had issues with his sin, but he didn’t take it as far as Dimmesdale did. He confessed his crime, but he let his wife’s judgment of him, drive him crazy. The consequence of the guilt that he was experiencing can be seen in two different lights. It eventually brought him to confession in the court, and the tarnishing of his good name. However, his confession was strictly to protect his wife, so his guilt could be seen also as a final reconciliation between Proctor and Elizabeth. Guilt has the capability of doing permanent damage to a person, and in both novels, the authors use guilt as a very negative force in a person’s life. In The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible, guilt is portrayed in similar ways. Both authors use the concept of guilt to imply the idea that guilt has the capabilities to produce reactions in people that in most situations aren’t the same. The result of a guilty conscience can be used as a positive or negative force in a person’s life and through the characters in both novels, this idea is made apparent. The cause of guilt, the reactions to the guilt, and the consequences resulting from the guilt are all used by Hawthorne and Miller to show the contrasting ways of handling personal guilt in a person’s life.

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