Scarlet LetterPeople often times try to cover up their interior in order to hide somethingthat is not to that persons liking. However, this inward state of being alwayswinds up working its way to a persons exterior, and thus, letting everyone knowof their respective sins. This is a recurring theme in Nathaniel Hawthornes, TheScarlet Letter. Names like Chillingworth and Dimmesdale let the reader knowhow, in reality, these characters are, before ever really encountering them. Characters whom the reader will encounter in this novel are going through sometype of dilemma on the inside, which begins to show itself in the exterior of theparticular individual.
In The Scarlet Letter, two studious individuals, RogerChillingworth and Arthur Dimmesdale, two of the main characters in the novel,each possess their own sins which begin to show themselves in their outermostfeatures, each brought apon themselves for their own respective reasons.
Roger Chillingworth’s features begin to display his inward deformitiesexternally as the novel progresses due to his attempts at finding the man whoviolated his marriage.
When he is first seen in the novel, “there was aremarkable intelligence in his features, as of a person who had so cultivated hismental part that it could not fail to mould the physical to itself and becomemanifest by unmistakable tokens.”He also has a left shoulder which is slightlyhigher than the right originally, which only gets more ugly and misshapen withthe rest of his body. Chillingworth then takes up residence with Dimmesdale andbegins his quest to punish the minister and find out the true identity of this man. After he begins his quest the townspeople observe “something ugly and evil inhis face which they had not previously noticed, and which grew still the moreobvious to sight, the oftener they looked upon him. Soon his wife, Hester, finds”the former aspect of an intellectual and studious man, calm and quiet, whichwas what she best remembered in him, had altogether vanished and beensucceeded by an eager searching, almost fierce, yet carefully guarded look.” Chillingworth, the injured husband, seeks no revenge against Hester, but he isdetermined to find the man who has violated his marrige: He bears no letter ofinfamy wrought into his garment, and thou dost; but I shall read it on his heart. Chillingworth comments: Believe me, Hester, there are few things… few thingshidden from the man who devotes himself earnestly and unreservedly to thesolution of a mystery. Thus, Chillingworth intends to seek the father at anycost. The reader finds out that cost winds up to be his own life, through theattachment that he has made to trying to bring down Reverend Dimmesdale, thefather of the child whose name is Pearl. It is quite apparent that his externalfeatures have changes during this whole procedure of finding out the identity ofDimmesdale: a change had come over his features…how much uglier theywere…how his dark complexion seemed to have grown duskier, and his figuremore misshapen.This attachment is evident at the end of the book when hecalls up to Dimmesdale on the scaffold to come down because he knows theonly way to escape the guilt in the ministers heart is to tell the truth about hisidentity. Finally, his life has become controlled by evil to the extent that onceDimmesdale dies, Chillingworth “withered up, shriveled away, and almostvanished from mortal sight.”Roger Chillingworth grows completely disfiguredand misshapen do to the constant nagging and dependence on the ReverendDimmesdale.
Though Dimmesdale commits the sin of adultery with Hester, hispunishment is augmented because he fails to immediately confess his identity.
Perhaps the reason for this is that just like his exterior, he is a weak man. Hedoes not want to admit to sinning against the Puritan God whom he serves.Itis quite evident that Dimmesdale is hiding something when in the GovernorsHall he speaks for Hester and Chillingworth comments, You speak, my friend,with a strange earnestness. However, Dimmesdale holds his sin within himself,using the justification that some sinners, “guilty as they may be, retaining,nevertheless, a zeal for God’s glory and man’s welfare, they shrink fromdisplaying themselves black and filthy in the view of men; because,thenceforward, no good can be achieved by them; no evil of the past beredeemed by better service”. Unfortunately, he does not trust this reasoning. Hehad tried many times to confess his sin, but he always fell short. During this time,Dimmesdale has grown quite ill from the constant nagging of Chillingworth and Dimmesdale resorts to putting his hand over his heart. Even the child of Hesterand himself, Pearl, wonders why he keeps his hand over his heart. She asks,Why dost thou wear the scarlet letter on thy bosom, and why does the ministerkeep his hand over his heart? She is not quite aware of the utter agony that thereverend is experiencing inwardly, which begins to manifest itself outwardly.
Dimmesdale’s feelings of guilt for his unconfessed sin caused him to seek hisown private penance. To help relieve his soul of the agony caused by his sin,Dimmesdale fasted “rigorously, and until his knees trembled beneath him as anact of penance”. He also “kept vigils, likewise, night after night,” that he mighthave the evil of his sin relieved from his conscience. This results in a greatphysical suffering, for His form grew emaciated; his voice, though still rich andsweet, had a certain melancholy prophecy of decay in it; he was often observed,on any slight alarm or other sudden accident, to put his hand over his heart, withfirst a flush and then a paleness, indicative of pain. This quote shows hisinward status beginning to rear its ugly head on the outer visage of Dimmesdale. His continual decline of health allows Chillingworth to obtain residence with him.
In these close quarters, Chillingworth becomes “a chief actor in the poorminister’s interior world,” and has the ability to make the minister suffer bothmental and physical agony. It is apparent that Dimmesdale feels guilt, for whenhe speaks regarding the act of adultery or his family, he holds his hand over hisletter that we later see on his chest when he delivers the sermon.In this scene,the minister finally releases all the emotions from his insides that we see throughmost of the book, only this time he shows the feelings externally. We see in thisscene the ultimate sign of Dimmesdales sin: his own scarlet letter A.Thus wefinally see that the only remedy for guilt, according to Hawthorne, is truth. Thetheme rings out throughout the entire novel: Be true! Be true! Be true! Thus,the deterioration of Dimmesdale could have been avoided by simply telling thetruth about his identity and showing his inward state of being, outwardly.
Roger Chillingworth and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale both have sinswhich they venture to cover up, but ultimately wind up showing themselves ontheir exteriors. These men try to conceal their sin and expect it to go away, butthe manifestation is inevitable. It is shown in the cases of these two men that sincannot be put under a veil. If sin is addressed with truth, there is no guilt to beconcealed, and thus there will be nothing to cloak or be displayed externally.
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