In Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter Roger Chillingworth is considered to be the greatest sinner. Chillingworth is considered to be the greatest sinner when sin is defined according to the Catholic Catechism and modern definition as any unloving act and deliberate disobedience of the known will of God. Sin in The Scarlet Letter is not only committed by Chillingworth but by Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, and also the Puritan society as a whole. Both Dimmesdale and Hester commit the sin of adultery while Chillingworth commits the mortal sin of having anger, hatred, and envy towards the two lovers. However, Roger Chillingworth's gravest sin is not committed through anger, hatred, or envy but by malice in the deliberate choice of evil. Chillingworth becomes consumed with his actions of anger, hatred, envy, and malice towards Dimmesdale and Hester while they strive to better their lives through repentance. Since Chillingworth's revenge has consumed him and made him inhuman he is unable to cleanse himself of his sins hence he is considered to be the greatest sinner. Because of this mortal sin he shrivels and vanishes at the end of the story.
In his novel Hawthorne writes critically about Puritan society as a whole because he felt guilty for his ancestors persecution of innocent people in the Salem Witch Trials. Decay and ugliness permeate the physical setting in The Scarlet Letter symbolizing the evil and sin in Puritan society that Hawthorn intends for us to see so that we regard the Puritan society itself as a character who sinned. What happens to Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth results from the ethics, morals, sterness and the rigidity of the individual Puritans the characters interact with. These individuals collectively are the Puritan society of Boston in1642 which in fact are sinners but not the most severe of the novel. .
During The Scarlet Letter Hester Prynne, "a young women who has born herself an illegitimate child and believes herself to be a widow"(Darrel 1) moves to Boston, New England from Europe in 1642 to start a new life.