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STAMFORD

UNIVERSITY
BANGLADESH

Assignment on:
Hawthornes reaction to the concept of sin in Scarlet Letter

Submitted to:

Submitted by:
Shireen Afroz

Department of English

Department of English
ID no: 04506340

Theological definition of Sin


Theology is a study of God. In systematic theology the branch that deals with the
study of sin is called Hamartiology.It investigates how sin originated, how it affects
the human race, the different types and degrees of sin, and the results of sin.
Sin as a subject does not have any direct relationship to the nature of God; it is the
direct opposite of the primary attribute of God, which is holiness. Sin, as an act, is
defined by Wesley as "A willful transgression of a known law." The idea that we
gain by this is that sin is an act of rebellion and one understands that they are doing
wrong. Theologically it is said that, Sin is not only your enemy, but God's.
Roman Catholic theological tradition, there are different grades of sin. Venial sins
involve some slight matter or are not done deliberately. As a result, it is not
actually necessary to reveal venial sins during confession and they do not deprive a
person of grace. Mortal sins are the most serious and are done deliberately. As
such, they are considered offenses against both humans and God so they must be
revealed during confession.
Christianhamartiology describes sin as an act of offence against God by despising
his Person and his commandments, and by injuring others.[1] It is an evil human act,
which violates the rational nature of man as well as God's nature and his eternal
law. According to the classical definition of St. Augustine of Hippo sin is a word,
deed, or desire in opposition to the eternal law of God.
Sins of Omission and Commission - These sins refer to personal sins. A sin of
commission is something we do (commit) by the act of our will against the
command of God. A sin of omission is when we fail to do something commanded
by God (omit) through a knowing act of our will.
Traditional idea of sin:
The concept of sin is, at its most basic, a transgression of religious or divine law.
Disobedience to god can be either deliberate or accidental. Augustine defined sin in
Christianity as any word or deed or thought against the eternal law, making it
essentially a religious or theological category. In Christianity, sin may usually

overlap moral categories, but some sins do not for example, idolatry. The
Christian concept of sin refers to the traditional Christian idea that when Adam
sinned, he acquired a stain on his soul which has been transferred to all of his
descendants. Because of this, all people are born sinful and are incapable of
achieving salvation on their own. Among some scholars, sin is understood mostly
as legal infraction or contract violation or violation of Christian ethics, and so
salvation tends to be viewed in legal terms, which is similar to Jewish thinking.
Puritan idea of sin
The Puritans have a somewhat complex idea of what constitutes a sin. If the
weather is bad, they would wonder what they had done to deserve the dreadful
weather. If someone came down with a severe illness, they would assume they had
committed a terrible sin to deserve it. They feel like the consequences of sin are
very severe and that they are individually punished for their foul actions.
Puritan Concepts:
Original Sin: Because Adam sinned, every human is born sinful. This concept of
Original Sin has no exceptions; in Michael Wigglesworth's poem "The Day of
Doom," even babies who died at birth were condemned to hell (if that fate had
been predestined for them). Redemption requires the preliminary overwhelming
consciousness of one's own sinful nature.
Unconditional Election: God "saves" those he wishes, the doctrine of
predestination. Because God is all-knowing, He already knows the final destination
of every soul. Although all "deserve" to go to hell because of original sin, God in
his mercy has chosen to save a few. However, a person cannot be totally certain of
his or her Election, and thus must constantly examine his or her life and motives to
see if they show signs of God's grace.
Limited Atonement: Jesus died for the chosen Elect only, those predestined for
heaven, not for everyone.
Irresistible Grace: Gods grace, or merciful love, is freely given (to the Elect) but
it cannot be earned or resisted. A person cannot "work" his or her way into heaven.
However, if truly saved, he or she will want to live as a saint.

Perseverance of the "Saints: The Elect have full power to interpret the will of
God, and to live uprightly.
17thcentury People reaction against sin:
The Scarlet Letter written by Nathaniel Hawthorne expresses the aspects of
relationships, religion, community, discipline and punishment in the puritan
community of 17th century Boston. Religion seemed to govern over all, people
would look up to reverends and the community believed that fate was their destiny.
Public discipline and punishment were used to discourage everyone else from
committing crime or sin.
Relationships between men and women were very constrained and marital
Relationships were looked upon as something sacred, that is what made adultery
such a bad sin in the eyes of everyone in the community. The community was to
follow the beliefs of god and to do their duties the best they could, yet were there
to criticize and punish all who disobeyed the religion or laws. In 17th century
Boston everything was very strict and everyone was expected to follow the laws,
which makes Hester's sin such an excellent example of the beliefs of that time
period. The first scaffold scene is very important because the scene sums up the
reaction of the general public against sin and sinner at that time.
In the beginning of chapter two the scene is described as it could have betokened
execution of some noted culprit, showing that the whole town was there for a
ruthless public punishment. The crowd was not there for an execution though, but
there for a public punishment of Hester Prynne who had committed adultery. This
scene shows the weight of values and morals upon society in the 17th century and
how public punishment was not only used as punishment but as a way to
discourage others from committing the same crime.
The reaction of community was key punishment because it helped alienate Hester
and further her pain. We first see Hester Prynne is publicly humiliated by inflicting
punishment on her for breaking one of the Ten Commandments- adultery. She is
compelled to stand in front of the town for hours and the crowd tries to break her
down with criticism. They enjoyed seeing her punished, having thought that
thereby they cleansed the town, and therefore only leaving a "pure" society. A
townsman explains that the penalty is death for her crime that showing the

harshness of the 17th century people. Instead, the community branded Hester
Prynne with the letter A for the rest of her life and made her stand in front of the
whole community as an example for everyone that sin and corruption was not
accepted in their society. Since religion was such a key part of their lives, anyone
who did disobey their god was looked down upon.
Hawthornes reaction towards Sin:
A great part of Nathaniel Hawthorne's fiction is concerned with the concept of "sin.
Although the novel is a detailed criticism of the Puritan way of life, Hawthorne
believed in and upheld the moral principles dictated by Puritanism. His novels
show that sin in all its forms has a devastating effect on those who commit it. "The
Scarlet Letter is built upon a series of sins. All characters carry their share of the
original sin. The adultery committed by Hester Prynne and Dimmesdale aggravates
their situation. Chillingworth, on the other hand, is to be held responsible for
committing the sin of abandonment. The moral abuse and social ostracizing
practiced on Hester Prynne are collective sins. Hawthorne believes that people
should show understanding and love to those who transgress, and so he reveals his
utter disgust of a society that is intently intolerant of persons who slip from the
path of morality. Hawthorne points out how unwise it is to set up one's self as a
judge.
Jesus
declares
"Judge
not
that
ye
be
not
judge
meaning that since all humans are sinners, judging in God's place is yet another
unpardonable sin.
But there is a certain complexity in the concept of sin as we find it in Hawthorne's
fiction. The reader is confronted with several categories of sin, some more obvious
than others. Such two categories described by Hawthorne are:

1. Instinctive sin (sins of passion)


2. Intentional sin(deliberate sins)
In chapter17, Hawthorne reveals his philosophy on sin,
punishment and forgiveness that deliberate, calculated acts of
malice are far worse than sins of passion. In this way,
Chillingworth is the worst of the three sinners. The author also

provides hope that his characters will find an escape, a way out of
their earthly torment. He explores the conflict between natural
law and Puritan law in their escape plans. He says Concealment
destroys the physical, spiritual and moral fiber, but confession
and repentance bring salvation
Hawthorne's characters are sinners, but many of them are
presented as people who actually gain salvation and regeneration
before the story ends. Hester acknowledges her sin and boldly
displays it to the world. The symbol of her shame, elaborately
embroidered, and worn long after she could have removed it, is
proof that she is trying to hide nothing. Her salvation lies in Truth.
While we admire Hester for her courage, we pity Arthur
Dimmesdale for his weakness in concealing his sin for seven long
years. After this period of intense struggle however, the minister
confesses his sin (in the chapter 23) on the scaffold and
experiences victory. Chillingworth loses his victory in two ways.
First, he no longer has Dimmesdale to torment, and second, he
receives Dimmesdale's blessing. Even as he is dying, the minister
manages to retain his reverence and his kindness by asking God's
forgiveness for Chillingworth. As Hester noted in her husband's
changed appearance earlier, revenge is never a positive motive
and generally consumes its possessor.
Salvation comes for him when he throws off the grab of hypocrisy
that he has worn and shows his real self. Hawthorne himself
points specifically to this in the "Conclusion" when he says,
"Among many morals which press upon us from the poor
minister's miserable experience, we put only this into a sentence:
- 'Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet
some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!" This is the
meaning that Hawthorne wants to convey--regeneration, victory,
and salvation come after confession of sin.
Conclusion

In conclusion, we can say that sin has a disastrous effect on


the sinner and on his relationship with others. It causes pain and
suffering and isolates the transgressor. Hawthorne summarizes it
aptly: "Hidden sin and guilt because more suffering than open
guilt. First, open acknowledgement of guilt allows people to move
on with their lives, instead of always worrying about the past. It
also allows them to seek forgiveness from the public. Hidden guilt,
however, causes people to continually worry about their sins
being discovered, and what punishments they may receive. This
leads to the deterioration of both mental and physical health. For
these reasons it is vital to be honest with one's self and others
concerning transgressions, however mortal"
The end