Adultery and Death
Many novels in American Literature contain the theme of the American Dream and how this dream is corrupted by the sins of adultery. In the novels Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, many of the characters ideal lives are destroyed through their desire to attain someone that they cannot be with. Through their lust and their belief that anything is attainable, the characters of Hurstwood, Dimmesdale, and Gatsby ultimately pay the price of death through their dream.
One thing that all of these characters had in common prior to their affairs was the fact they were all respected in their society. They were not outcasts until they started reaching for an obsession that they could not possible be with.
In the case of Hurstwood, his attraction was to Carrie and inevitably led to his downfall.
From the first time Hurstwood laid eyes on Carrie he started to ignore his wife. Soon his wife realized that something was going on and decides to file for a divorce, hire a detective, and locked him out of their house. Since all of their property is in her name, Hurstwood was left with nothing. After being kicked out of his house, Hurstwood moved to New York City with Carrie, once there he bought part of a nearby bar. This business started to fall apart and Hurstwood was forced to start looking for other means of employment. Once Carrie realized that Hurstwood had nothing to offer her, she left him in order to pursue her Broadway career. From that point on Hurstwoods life declined up until the point where he had no will to live and finally ended his life by committing suicide in a hotel room.
For Dimmesdale, it was his guilt that led to his death. When The Scarlet Letter first opens Hester and her daughter, Pearl, are standing on a scaffold with Hester wearing a letter A. This A stands for adultery. Even though Dimmesdale was the one who had an affair with Hester he is not standing on the scaffold. One night Dimmesdale is so overcome with shame about hiding his secret that he walks to the scaffold where Hester was publicly humiliated. He stands on the scaffold and imagines the whole town watching him with a letter emblazoned on his chest. Several weeks later Dimmesdale delivers his Election Sermon. After he is finished he calls Hester and Pearl to come to him. They then all join around the scaffold and Dimmesdale tells the people that he is also a sinner like Hester, and that he should have assumed his rightful place by her side over seven years earlier. He then rips open his shirt to reveal a scarlet letter on his flesh. Dimmesdale falls to his knees and dies while on the scaffold.
Like Hurstwood and Dimmesdale, Gatsby was also a victim of adultery. Gatsby was attracted to Daisy and spent his entire life trying to build a lifestyle that she would approve of. Since Gatsby was so obsessed with his dream to be with Daisy he went into the profession of bootlegging. Once he had enough money to be considered a wealthy member of society, he started to throw extravagant parties in order to attract Daisy. He soon met up with Daisy and tried to persuade her to leave her husband.Soon Tom, Daisys husband, learned of their affair and confronted Gatsby. However, when Gatsby begs Daisy to say that she does not love her husband, she refuses him. On their drive back home Daisy accidentally hits and kills Myrtle, Toms lover. Myrtles husband soon learns of this and is told that Gatsby was the driver of the car. He then shots Gatsby and commits suicide himself.
While the American Dream is greatly represented in these three novels, it was the corruption of adultery that unavoidably caused the death of Hurstwood, Dimmesdale, and Gatsby. The dream to attain the unattainable destroyed all that these men had worked for. By choosing to pursue a prohibited relationship they showed that they only thing that comes from adultery is death.