Guilt In The Scarlet Letter And The Crucible

Scarlet Letter/Crucible Essay

The presence of guilt has been felt by all human beings. As guilt grows in a

person’s life it eventually begins to have a deteriorating effect on the individual. In both

The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible more than one of the characters are experiencing

some form of guilt and the effects of the public’s opinion on their own personal sins.

Each character’s guilt originates from a different personal problem and with each

character’s guilt comes a different reaction. Miller and Hawthorne use the source of

guilt, the actions resulting from it and the eventual consequences to portray the

concept of a guilty conscience to the reader.

Each character’s guilt originates from a different source. Through different

characters, Hawthorne and Miller display guilt and it’s source to the reader. In both The

Scarlet Letter and The Crucible the use of relationships between a man and a woman are

used as a primary source of guilt. Hawthorne uses Dimmesdale and Hester, and Miller

uses Proctor and Elizabeth. The men in both cases are experiencing guilt involving

mistakes made sexually. Dimmesdale, who is a highly respected priest has a sinful

relationship with a married woman, and Proctor, a married man, falls for a young girl and

commits adultery. With Dimmesdale, his guilt stems from the concealment of his sin. He

watches Hester as she confesses and for seven years he agonizes over it, while he still

remains innocent in the eyes of all. However with Proctor, he confesses to his wife right

away. In an argument with his wife he says, “’ I should have roared you down when you

first told me of your suspicion. But I wilted, and like a Christian, I confessed!”’(55). The

guilt that Proctor feels comes, not from a secret that he is keeping, but from “’The

magistrate that sits in his heart”’(55), as Elizabeth puts it. With the women in these

relationships, their guilt has a less drastic origin. Elizabeth knows that she has not

committed any sin that can compare to her husband’s, but she admits that “’it needs a

cold wife to prompt lechery”’ (137). Even though John has committed the ultimate sin

against her, she still finds it in her heart to take some of the blame off him and place it

on herself. With Hester however, her guilt come from “’ the scarlet token of infamy on her

breast and the sin-born infant in her arms “’(69). Her sin was already known and the

only guilt that she felt was when she looked at her daughter or caught a glimpse of her

letter in a mirror. The sources of guilt in the novels are not all the same, however in all

situations, their guilt comes from some sort of sin, whether it be considered a sin in

their heart, or in the eyes of others around them.

As guilt exists in the lives of Hester, Dimmesdale, Elizabeth and Proctor, it brings

them to respond to it in different ways. Dimmesdale’s guilt actually brings him to self

destruction. His appearance begins to change drastically, he becomes pale and very

sickly. He beats himself up inside and it was believed by some that he wore a scarlet

letter “imprinted in his flesh”(240). So, not only was he scarred inside, but also outside.

Proctor handled his guilt with a different approach. His actions towards his wife

changed, in that he does nothing without looking to please her first. He hopes to gain

her forgiveness in order to remove the weight off of his heart. The men in both situations

are more dramatic and open with their guilt, however, the women keep it bottled up

inside. Hester does nothing to express her guilt to anyone, and Elizabeth waits until she

is about to lose her husband to openly display the guilt that eats her up inside. The

reactions of each character’s guilty conscience differs, but through Hawthorne and

Miller’s portrayal of it, the reader can see that with every kind of guilt, small or large,

comes some sort of reaction from each character.

The consequences that plague a guilty conscience depend on the severity of the

conscience and the type of personality that the character has. In both of the novels, the