Nathaniel Hawthornes novel The Scarlet Letter deals with a plethora of issues not only prominent when the story was written but also prominent today. Some issues being: sin, corruption in society, guilt, revenge, hypocrisy and, above all truth. Hawthorne himself addresses the reader in saying, Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait, whereby the worst may be inferred (Hawthorne). This plead for truth begs for all of humanity to realize that, though sin may be bad, sin makes humans, human. A person can only be seen for who they really are if they show themselves at their worst. This idea of revealing a truth is shown throughout The Scarlet Letter in the characters Hester, Pearl, Chillingworth, Dimmesdale, and the puritan community in which they all live in.
Hester and Pearl, seen as the most sinful in the town, are actually the most truthful. Hester openly embraces her sin and stands on the scaffold, that instrument of discipline(63), for her sin to be seen by all, and she never hides her scarlet letter A, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom (61). She only lets others see her for who she really is. This truthful trait is passed down to her daughter Pearl who, like her mother, shows only her true character. Pearl was raised outside the Puritan community and grew up without the strict religious binding that the rest of the children in her town grew up with. Pearl is playful, acts like a child and, seemed rather an airy sprite (94). To the Puritan community this appears odd compared to the straight laced, disciplined children they are used to. They are often alarmed and almost frightened by her alien behavior. Mr. Wilson even asks Pearl if she is, one of those naughty elves or fairies who [he] thought to have left behind [him] (109). But, this is who Pearl really is and she doesnt try to hide it. Hester and Pearl both let their truths be known and are better off because of it, unlike other characters in the story.
Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, and the Puritan community are completely different in private compared to who they are in public. This causes problems, especially for Dimmesdale and Chillingworth. Dimmesdale, the highly respected and greatly praised town minister, seen as a pure man without sin, fancied [as] the mouthpiece of Heavens messages of wisdom and rebuke and love(139), actually has a dark secret sin he is hiding from the community. This secret, constantly tearing and trying to fight its way out of him, causes him to grow frail, careworn and emaciated(113), and look a lot older. He constantly feels full of guilt and punishes himself for his sin by cutting and carving his body. The only way he can release this feeling of guilt and pain is to reveal his sin by standing on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl, and later running away with them.
Chillingworth, like Dimmesdale, has a dark secret of his own. He searches for revenge against Dimmesdale, whom he suspects of performing adultery with his wife. During his quest for revenge he becomes consumed by it. He pretends to be a good doctor but, he is really ready to stab his patient, Dimmesdale, in the back at any moment. This want for revenge creates, a fire within his laboratory (126), which fed with infernal fuel (126) changes him. Not only has his internal being changed, but his external appearance begins to transform. He develops, something ugly and evil in his face (126). And, although his body was deformed before his pursuit for revenge, his deformity almost becomes a symbol for how his revenge is twisting and distorting his thoughts and actions. Chillingworths secret double life, remaining unrevealed, creates an unknown monster in the community he works in.
Ironically, the Puritan community, ever ready to judge others, is corrupt. The very base of the population in Boston, the Government, is run by hypocritical men who preach to others the need for pure government and for a religious life. But, this same government allows Hester to live because of her beauty and does not persecute a witch, Old Mistress Hibbins (57), because of her authoritative connections to a magistrate. Even the townspeople themselves are untrue to their outward appearance. The gentle women of Boston, once together, speak horribly of Hester, even to the point of wishing A hot iron on Hester Prynnes forehead (59). That kind of behavior or thought is not exactly how pure Christian women are said to act. The whole town of Boston, like Chillingworth, leads a double life. From the outside it seems pure and good, but the inside is rotten, corrupt, and full of hidden truths that are never fully revealed.
The characters Hester, Pearl, Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, and the Puritan community deal with truth in various ways. Hester and Pearl follow Nathaniel Hawthornes vision by not keeping secrets and revealing their truths, while Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, and the people in Boston keep their truths hidden, making it hard for others to see their real identity. In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses complex characters and eloquent writing to contrast two treatments of truth, thus make his point that a person can only be seen for who they really are if they show themselves at their worst, and that though sin is bad, it is was makes people human. And, in making his point, has created a beautiful, novel that exposes the corruption in a society and the sins of the people that live in it.