The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter: The Dangers of Hypocrisy In Matthew 23:13 Jesus cries out, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.” Shortly after that, Jesus says, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” Since hypocrisy can be found in each and every person in some form or another, scores of authors have used their stories to illustrate the dangers of hypocrisy. Nathaniel Hawthorne chose to display this moral in one of his most famous works. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne works through his characters to reveal the perilous dangers of hypocrisy. Hawthorne displays the hypocrisy in his characters through the first scaffold scene. In the case of Hester, Hawthorne displays her hypocrisy in that while Hester is on the scaffold and should be feeling guilt, ignominy, and embarrassment, Hawthorne says that she feels as though “she must needs shriek out with the full power of her lungs,” yet she does not. Hawthorne says that Hester “ascended a flight of wooden steps, and was thus displayed . . . at about the height of a man’s shoulders above the street.” From this point of view Hawthorne makes it perfectly clear that Hester believes herself to have done no wrong, even while she stands on the scaffold. Hawthorne will often use the visual appearances of his characters to demonstrate their hypocrisy. One such case can be seen through Hester’s attire during the first scaffold scene. Hawthorne informs the reader that Hester’s attire “seemed to express the attitude of her spirit, the desperate recklessness of her mood, by its wild and picturesque peculiarity.” This, along with her scarlet letter which was “so fantastically embroidered,” does not point towards a heart which feels penance for her sin, but rather a feeling of pride and disregard for her transgressions. Hawthorne

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