Guilt In The Scarlet Letter And The Crucible

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Guilt In The Scarlet Letter And The Crucible

Word Count: 975Scarlet Letter/Crucible Essay
The presence of guilt has been felt by all human beings. As guilt grows in a
persons 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 publics opinion on their own personal sins.
Each characters guilt originates from a different personal problem and with each
characters 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 characters guilt originates from a different source. Through different
characters, Hawthorne and Miller display guilt and its 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 husbands, 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. Dimmesdales 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 characters guilty conscience differs, but through Hawthorne and
Millers 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
consequences resulting from guilt are showed best through the two men. In
Dimmesdales case, his guilt eventually condemned him to his grave. In most situations
guilt isnt that drastic, but in his case, seven years of self inflicted punishment was
enough to kill him. Proctor, definitely had issues with his sin, but he didnt take it as far
as Dimmesdale did. He confessed his crime, but he let his wifes judgment of him, drive
him crazy. The consequence of the guilt that he was experiencing can be seen in two
different lights. It eventually brought him to confession in the court, and the tarnishing
of his good name. However, his confession was strictly to protect his wife, so his guilt
could be seen also as a final reconciliation between Proctor and Elizabeth. Guilt has the
capability of doing permanent damage to a person, and in both novels, the authors use
guilt as a very negative force in a persons life.


In The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible, guilt is portrayed in similar ways. Both
authors use the concept of guilt to imply the idea that guilt has the capabilities to
produce reactions in people that in most situations arent the same. The result of a
guilty conscience can be used as a positive or negative force in a persons life and
through the characters in both novels, this idea is made apparent. The cause of guilt,
the reactions to the guilt, and the consequences resulting from the guilt are all used by
Hawthorne and Miller to show the contrasting ways of handling personal guilt in a
persons life.