The Greatest Sinner


‘In Adam’s fall we sinned all’.


January 12, 2003


2nd Hour


In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the reader is able to observe how one sin devastates three lives. Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth are all guilty of succumbing to temptation, anger, and desire, causing all to fit the definition of a sinner. However, the question in this book is not of who sinned, for everyone is a sinner, it is of who sinned the greatest. Chillingworth's iniquities raise him up above Hester and Dimmesdale on the level of diabolic acts, and therefore makes him the greatest sinner. From the very moment Chillingworth enters the story he is deceitful towards the Puritan society, he claims vengeance for an act that he acknowledged was his own wrong doing. Another way of determining who really is the greatest sinner is to look at each character’s reaction to the sin. Hester used the insight that her sin gave her to supply advice for the community. Dimmesdale used his sin to show the community that everyone is a sinner, and that it is what we do with our sin which determines wether we are good or evil. Chillingsworth did not use his sin for a just cause, he let his vengeance turn him evil. Hester and Dimmesdale’s sin was a sin of passion, Chillingsworth’s sin was a sin of evil retribution.


Although Hester shared her sin with Dimmesdale, she accepted the punishment for their sin and faced all of society alone. Sin strengthened Hester, she was forced to live with her shame and her guilt every day in the face of all society. Hester never blamed another person for her pain, if anything, she felt guilt for the pain caused by Arthur’s and Chillingworth’s sins. On page 177 Hester begs Arthur’s forgiveness for not telling him that Chillingsworth is her husband; "...forgive me! In all things else, I have striven to be true!...he who they call Roger Chillingworth!‑he was my husband!". Hester not only seeks forgiveness for her sin but also for Dimmesdale’s and Chillingworth’s sins. Another extremely important thing to consider when debating who was the greatest sinner in the novel is the fact that Hester stayed in Boston to live out her punishment. Although Hawthorne does not pardon Hester’s sin, he considers it to be less severe than Dimmesdale’s and Chillingworth’s because they hid their sins to escape society’s punishment. Hester was determined to live out her punishment, she knew that running away from Boston wouldn’t make her less guilty in God’s eyes.


Even though Dimmesdale allowed Hester to suffer for both of their sins for seven years, he still felt the unyielding guilt of his sin. Just because Dimmesdale’s sin was never publically punished doesn’t mean that it wasn’t punished. Arthur Dimmesdale not only underwent his own, personal punishment but also Chillingworth’s torture and God’ wrath. Dimmesdale whips himself, starves himself and locks himself away for days at a time, he allowed his sin to become the function of his life. Along with his own personal torture Dimmesdale also underwent Chillingworth’s unrelenting physical and mental torment, and the contriteness he constantly felt from God chastising him. Arthur’s sin humanizes him, he becomes aware of the religious power he has on society and fights off all of his urges to use that power to corrupt any other being. On page 201 Dimmesdale had to battle his own evil inclinations; ‘...he was concise of another impulse, more ludicrous, and almost as horrible. It was‑we blush to tell it‑it was to stop short in the road, and teach some very wicked words to a knot of little Puritan children who were playing there...he just begun to talk. Denying himself this freak, as unworthy of his cloth...’. More importantly, Arthur Dimmesdale uses his sin to teach society about sin, this alone should be enough to place him above Roger Chillingworth.


What makes Chillingworth’s sin so much more severe that Hester’s or Dimmesdales, is the fact that he knowingly hurt Dimmesdale. Hester And Dimmesdale’s sin was never intended to harm another person, while their selfishness did affect Pearl’s live their original intentions were noble. Roger Chillingworth committed the greatest sin because he let himself be ruled by hatred and the consuming desire for vengeance. The overpowering