The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, deals with crime, punishment, and guilt in Puritan society. The main characters include Hester Prynne, Roger Chillingworth, and Reverend Dimmesdale. All of the characters undergo a certain degree of crime, guilt, and punishment. Each of the characters either share the same amount of guilt, or are less guilty then the other. Most of the sins the characters commit could have not taken place if it was not for the one sin that led it all on. Hester's sin plays a major role in leading on the sins of others in The Scarlet Letter.
The society in which Hester Prynne lives in frowns upon her. She considers herself to be a sinful and wrong person stating, "She knew that her deed had been evil, she could have no faith."(Hawthorne 82). Prynne commits the crime of adultery which she should be hung for, but instead has to wear the letter "A" on her chest for the rest of her life. Now that her sin physically remains with her, she constantly is reminded of what she did. Also, Pearl reminds Hester of what she did everyday, "She looked fearfully into the child's expanding nature, ever dreading to detect some dark and wild peculiarity, that should correspond with the guiltiness to which she owed her being."(82).
This forces Hester Prynne to feel guilt for her actions. Hester has got to be one of the most guilty of all the characters because if she did not commit the sin she did, then the other character's guilt would have probably not taken place. Especially the guilt she brings forth upon Dimmesdale. Townspeople also look down upon Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, another main character in the story. Dimmesdale also commits the sin of adultery. Unlike Hester, his crime does not reach the public's knowledge until the very end of the story. Dimmesdale states, "If thou feelest it to be for thy soul's peace, and that thy eathly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer! . . .
Take heed how thou deniest to him — who, perchange, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself — the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips!"(63). In this speech Dimmesdale says that he wants Hester to give his name up, so that he can receive his punishment for his sin. Dimmesdale does not have the courage to tell everyone that he himself has taken part in the crime along with Hester. Dimmesdale begins to feel guilt for what he has done. Dimmesdale also has to be the most guilty character in The Scarlet Letter since he took part in the crime which leads on other peoples guilt.
If Dimmesdale and Hester did not commit the sin that they became a part of, then Roger Chillingworth would never have to commit any sin at all. Roger Chillingworth, Hester's husband, comes to town after being held captive by natives. The first thing that comes to his attention when he walks into town happens to be his wife standing on a scaffold for public mockery, for the sin of adultery which Hester commit. Chillingworth tells Hester, "I shall seek this man, as I have sought truth in books; as I have sought gold in alchemy. There is a sympathy that will make me conscious of him. I shall see him tremble. I shall feel myself shudder, suddenly and unawares. Sooner or later, he must needs be mine!" (69).
Chillingworth's major sin (crime) he commits has to be the act of seeking revenge on Dimmesdale. The most least guilty of the characters in The Scarlet Letter has to be Chillingworth. Even though he out does himself by trying to wreak fear into the life of Dimmesdale he did what any other jealous person might do in his exact situation. The main characters in The Scarlet Letter are bound into feeling guilt by their own crimes and punishment.
Hester Prynne has got to be one of the most guilty of the 3 since if she did not commit the sin of adultery that she did all the others sins would not have taken place. Arthur Dimmesdale's also one of the most guilty of the characters because he took part, along with Hester, in the major sin which influences the others to actually happen. Roger Chillingworth, the least guilty of the characters, got caught up in the middle of everything that took place, and only did what any other typical jealous guy would. The Scarlet Letter shows that there are consequences for the actions we take.