One thing that I took away from Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter was the harmfulness of secrets. Often time’s, we, as human beings, keep secrets to protect others. We want to spare them emotional pain. What we don’t realize is that secrets can cause more harm than good. That is made evident through the two secrets that Hester kept throughout the entire book. Now these secrets aren’t necessarily her fault. But nevertheless, they caused great strife to those she was trying to protect.
The first secret that Hester kept was about her partner in crime, Dimmesdale. She refused to reveal him as her fellow adulterer. She did that so that he wouldn’t have to undergo the same punishment that she would. Dimmesdale himself was too afraid to confess. Hester only aided him in his pusillanimity. By doing this, she thought she was sparing him pain. In reality, she was really enabling further strife. In fact, Dimmesdale, in keeping his sin discrete, suffered more for it than Hester, who literally wore her sin on her chest.
Dimmesdale’s guilt nearly drove him to madness. He became physically and emotionally ill. He beat himself in an effort to wipe away his sin- it didn’t work. In the end, he was finally able to muster the courage to confess. However, it literally took everything that he had. He died seconds later. If Hester had turned him in at the beginning of the story, he probably wouldn’t have died of guilt. Better yet, if Dimmesdale had confessed when Hester was being convicted, he would found peace with himself and God. He wouldn’t have spent the better part of seven years punishing himself for a crime that he couldn’t publicly acknowledge.
The other secret that Hester kept was equally destructive. She promised not to tell anyone Roger Chillingworth was her former husband. Now, while it makes sense why Hester would keep this a secret, one can only wonder why she kept it for so long. Chillingworth told her that he would exact revenge on the then mysterious adulterer. What’s more, she knew that Chillingworth moved in with Dimmesdale. With that knowledge, couldn’t she deduce that Chillingworth knew, or was suspicious of Dimmesdale? Yet, seven years passed before she told Dimmesdale that he was splitting rent with the devil. I can’t imagine the betrayal that Dimmesdale felt when Hester told him that she knew that her evil ex-husband was torturing him for seven years, and failed to tell him. Luckily for her, Dimmesdale is a pretty forgiving guy, far more forgiving than I (along with most members of the human race) would be in that situation.
In withholding the identity of her husband, Hester didn’t only enable Chillingworth “torture” Dimmesdale, but it also allowed Chillingworth to become a monster. Living undetected in an enemy’s home made it possible for Chillingworth to be consumed with hatred and revenge. This hatred ultimately destroyed Chillingworth after he failed to exact his sinister revenge.
After reading Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, this message weighed heavy on my heart: secrets ruin relationships. Not just relationships, but lives as well. They open the door to guilt and shame, welcome in contempt and spite, and hand them the keys to our lives. It’s easy to think that you’re benefiting others by holding secrets. In most situations, you’re just being selfish. You want to avoid a confrontation, you want to spare someone’s feelings, you’re afraid that you’ll lose someone or something that you care about. Whatever you’ve done, however ugly the truth, it’s better told sooner than later. The longer a secret is kept, the more pain its revelation causes.
Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets.
– Paul Tournier