The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlet Letter Theme of Guilt and Blame
(Click the themes infographic to download.)
Blame may be something one person does to another, but it takes a consciousness of wrong doing to feel guilty. And Hester feels plenty guilty. Also guilty? Dimmesdale. The one person in this messy triangle who seems to escape the feeling of guilt is Chillingworth—but he gets plenty of blame. By the end of The Scarlet Letter, both Hester and Dimmesdale agree that Chillingworth is the real villain in this situation. And the only way to relieve your guilt? To confess. We're not positive, but we think that, when Chillingworth leaves his fortune to Pearl, he's doing just that: guilty as charged.
Questions About Guilt and Blame
- Do guilt and blame work together to bring reformation of any of the characters in this book? Why or why not? Can you have guilt without blame, or blame without guilt?
- What does "redemption" mean to the Puritans in this novel? What does "redemption" seem to mean to Hawthorne? How about to the other characters—to Chillingworth, Dimmesdale, and Pearl?
- According to The Scarlet Letter, does redemption require confession? To whom?
Chew on This
The Puritan use of public shaming and blame-placing backfires, pushing Hester and Dimmesdale to the margins of their community and making them contemplate even worse actions.
Guilt proves to be an effective emotion, because it pushes Hester into reforming herself and eventually being forgiven and respected by her community.