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Nathaniel Hawthornes’s “Scarlet Letter”

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In “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Dimmesdale confronts the conflict between passion and his responsibilities by taking out his emotions on himself so that he can keep his obligation to his congregation by being a pure priest. The conflict takes up a great magnitude of Dimmesdale’s energy and in the end instigates his demise. The conflict between passion and responsibility is not only evident in the Scarlet Letter, but throughout many noteworthy works of literature. Hawthorne shows this recurring theme throughout the novel, and it is very evident in the book as a whole, but especially in the scenes involving the scaffold, a public form of punishment.

In the first scaffold scene, Dimmesdale is trying to persuade Hester to reveal the identity of her fellow sinner. Because Dimmesdale’s private passion with Hester conflicts with what the church deems pure, it is his responsibility to keep his congregation safe from his evil deeds. In his appearance to the public, Dimmesdale avoids the conflict between his passion and responsibility very directly by not revealing that he is Hester’s lover. This conflict affects him very deeply, and it takes a large amount of energy on his part to keep his sin away from the crowd.

As the story progresses, Dimmesdale is thrown even further into a state of emotional turmoil. He begins to hurt himself to make up for the sin that he has committed, and to help keep his emotions away from the congregation, which is his responsibility to keep pure. Dimmesdale still keeps the conflict between his passion and his responsibility hidden from the people that he feels he has the responsibility to take care of. The conflict drains even more of his energy, and he is seen to be in an ever-increasing crippled state, constantly with his hand over his heart.

In one of the final scenes of the novel, Dimmesdale ascends the scaffold with Hester and Pearl in front of the entire town. He confronts the demands between his passion and his responsibilities by revealing his love for Hester. The conflict that his been taxing his strength throughout the entire novel, is at a peak in this particular scene, and so pulls even more energy out of his body. As he finally reaches the top of the scaffold, the conflict is so strong that it uses the last of his energy reserves, and extinguishes him.

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