Monday, January 23, 2012

The use of spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation to provide a happy ending in The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter.

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Frequently, authors use spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation to provide a happy ending to their story. The characters John Proctor and Arthur Dimmesdale take part in this kind of an ending in The Crucible by Arthur Miller and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, respectively. Although both Proctor and Dimmesdale are in similar situations during their moral resolutions, they react and adjust differently to their circumstances, and each author utilizes different literary techniques to accentuate these realizations Miller uses light imagery while Hawthorne uses irony and symbolism.


Both Proctor and Dimmesdale confess their sins to society; however, they have different motives behind their confession. Proctor confesses to his adultery in an attempt to save his wife and to expose Abigail as the true fraud. On the other hand, Dimmesdale confesses to his adultery to release the immense guilt that he has carried for seven years. Whereas Proctor made his decision with other people in mind, Dimmesdale only wants to die in peace. Dimmesdale realizes that he cannot die in peace or live with himself if he dies with the fa├žade of his holiness intact.


Next, although Dimmesdale and Proctor both lose their lives in the process of attaining clarity of conscience, Proctor selflessly sacrifices his life to meet his moral standards while Dimmesdale only stands by his principles as his death becomes certain. Dimmesdales sacrifice is made only for himself, because he only confesses when he knows that his fate is certainly sealed by approaching death and he feels that, if he does not repent, his soul will be damned to Hell. Even though Pearl emerges as a more complete human being which is indicated by her crying after Dimmesdales death, the ministers main reason for confession is his own salvation. On the other hand, where he once thought himself a completely unfit person, John Proctor gives his life by choice to remain true to himself by preserving his clean name. Not only that, Proctor, after already making his confession, turns down his chance to live at the expense of others and feels his self-sacrifice can right the wrong he performed by sleeping with Abigail Williams. Proctors decision to give his life allows him to die with his goodness as Elizabeth states in the final scene of the play. He feels that he is no longer a complete waste due to his refusal to confess a lie in order to save his life; in fact, Proctor reclaims a fraction of his dignity and is able to welcome his death as the ultimate price for his sins.


Miller uses light imagery to make the spiritual reconciliation of John Proctor more definite in The Crucible. In the minutes preceding Proctors epiphany, the jail cell is dark and dreary. The gloomy setting of the jail cell emphasizes the malevolence involved in the persecution of innocent people in the witch trials. This contrast between the jail cell and the dawns light only further aligns Proctor in the right when he makes his stand against his prosecutors. After Proctors decision to face death, rather than live a lie, light finally reaches the cell in the form of a glorious sun at dawn which affirms the righteousness of his decision.


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Additionally, Hawthorne uses irony to illustrate Dimmesdales ineffective confessions that compile and add to his guilt. Dimmesdales congregation is unable to understand the ministers proclamations of impurity that only mislead his congregation. Instead, the sermons audience perceives Dimmesdales futile attempts at confession as further poof of its impiety. This misconception only tortures Dimmesdale further because it also reinforces his perceived holiness. The irony increases as, consequentially, Dimmesdale recognizes his weak confessions are being misinterpreted, yet he continues to use the congregations blind following to his advantage which can be perceived as an even worse sin. The congregations ironic view of Dimmesdale as the pinnacle of human perfection and holy benevolence creates a further importance of his confession.


Also, in The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses symbolism to add to the moral requirement and physical need for Dimmesdale to openly express his adulterous sin for redemption. One sign that is used is the letter “A” which is written by a comet in the night sky as Dimmesdale stands at the scaffold. People of the town believe that the mysterious “A” stands for “angel” in respect for Governor Winthrops death. This interpretation gives a holy quality to the letter “A” that is always used as the sign of adultery. By using the letter in that way, Hawthorne suggests the confession of the sin is a holy deed. Not only that, the impressed letter “A” on Dimmesdales chest represents the damage caused by the concealment of the sin. The physical and moral damage can only stop by revealing the truth of sin.


Although the endings of these two works are not uplifting, they are “happy” in the sense that the characters of Proctor and Dimmesdale come to terms with their situations. Even though each character deals with their strife in unique ways, both Proctor and Dimmesdale are able to release the constraints that their guilt placed onto them. So, in the end, John Proctor and Arthur Dimmesdale are able to die in peace.





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