Sin, vengeance, evil, and redemption are all words one can associate when thinking about The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The character who takes the truest form of these negative words is Roger Chillingworth. Hester Prynne had married Chillingworth in England, however left her for many years. During those years, Chillingworth spent time with Indians learning their ways while Hester had an ill legitimate child with a beloved priest named Arthur Dimmesdale. When Hester Prynne begins her lifetime of public shame and guilt, Chillingworth makes his timely return and devotes his life to emotionally torturing Arthur Dimmsedale.
Through his many years of vindictive vengeance, the reader sees his abundant physical traits, in depth visual symbols, and his theoretical view on transcendentalism that reveal his true personality.
Roger Chillingworth’s physical appearance serves as a very important tool in revealing his internal evil and sin. His first and most evident physical description is revealed through the quote, “…it was sufficiently evident to Hester Prynne that one of this man’s shoulders rose higher than the other.
” (Hawthorne, 42) Here, his physical deformity serves as a mirror to the internal deformity of his soul. This quote quickly reveals to the reader that Chillingworth’s soul and mind are distorted just like his body. A second trait that captures the essence of Chillingworth is his piercing eyes, “Yet those same bleared optics had a strange, penetrating power, when it was their power’s purpose to see into the human soul.” (Hawthorne, 41) Chillingworth’s eyes show his one, clear purpose throughout this novel, to disrupt and exploit the human soul. His eyes not only symbolize his power to emotionally invade a heart, but also represent the devil inside of him. The evil spark that lights within his soul is shown through his flaming red eyes, “Ever and anon, too, there came a glare of red light out of his eyes; as if the old man’s soul were on fire, and kept on smoldering duskily within his breast, until, by some casual puff of passion, it was blown into momentary flame.” (Hawthorne, 116) This quote directly relates Chillingworth to the devil through the description of fire and red light. This physical transformation represents how vengeance and redemption have captivated his entire soul and mind. These physical traits assist the reader in understanding the malicious soul within his body that is present in his physical appearance.
As his name infers, Chillingworth is unable to experience human warmth or joy. This characters destructive personality is revealed through the aid of visual symbols. Hawthorne alludes to Chillingworth being the sinful antagonist from the very beginning of the novel, “A writhing horror twisted itself across his features, like a snake gliding swiftly over them, and making one little pause, with all its wreathed intervolutions in open sight.” (Hawthorne, 42) Chillingworth is compared to a serpent, which serves as the archetypical representation of true evil. This gives the reader a clue that he will become the source of evil that works against Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. Next, The color black often symbolizes evil or death and it makes numerous appearances within this novel that are in direct relation to Chillingworth. It is not a coincidence that Hester’s daughter Pearl calls Chillingworth by the name of ‘the black man’. Pearl sees the ‘blackness’ radiating from his revengeful soul from the start. Another reference to the color black in seen through the quote, “It seems to be his wish and purpose to mask this expression with a smile; but the latter played him false, and flickered over his visage so derisively, that the spectator could see his blackness all the better for it.” (Hawthorne, 116) Chillingworth is often seen trying to cover up his instinctive wickedness, but as this quotes explains, his soul is truly black and is not easily concealed. As this book progresses, not only Pearl, but the whole town begins to see Chillingworth as the Devil through his torture of the all-around holy reverend, Dimmesdale. Chillingworth’s physical and mental transformation from the beginning of The Scarlet Letter to the end represents a final visual symbol. The Puritans of the town first respected and supported the knowledable doctor and his assisting to the sickly reverend.
As years past, the physical health of Dimmesdale crashed as Chillingworth oppressed his mental health through constant guilt and remorse. Chillingworth’s obsession with vengeance takes control of every second of his time. His already blackened heart becomes darker and darker with time. This internal transition is seen through the quote, “In a word, old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of man’s faculty of transforming himself into a devil, if he will only for a reasonable space of time, undertake a devil’s office. This unhappy person had effected such a transformation by devoting himself, for seven years, to the constant analysis of a heart full of torture, and deriving his enjoyment thence.” (Hawthorne, 116) This quote emphasizes Chillingworth’s darkness as a human being. This novel centers around sin, as many characters in it sin many times; however, Chillingworth’s sin is considered the most immoral of them all. This is because he chose and accepted his sin, and then became completely enveloped and obsessed with it. Chillingworth is a leech, he lives of the hurt and pain exerted by Dimmesdale’s suffering. When Arthur Dimmesdale confesses and his guilt and shame disappear, his has lost his victim and the object of his revenge. His life no longer serves a purpose, and he essentially, must die. Through multiple visual representations that include, his comparison to a serpent, the symbolic use of the color black, and his transformation physically and internally, the reader can conclude that Chillingworth represents sin and evil in the most accurate form.
With a strong analysis of Roger Chillingworth, one can determine that he demonstrated many transcendental actions and beliefs throughout this novel. Three transcendental ideologies that Chillingworth represents and acts out continuously coincide with Nature, non-conformity, and free thought. Chillingworth aids the town as an intelligent doctor, who had traveled with Native Americans and studied their ways. Through his knowledge, he becomes connected to the natural remedies the Earth offers to humankind. His uses this intelligence however for evil instead of good, “Would not the earth, quickened to an evil purpose by the sympathy of his eye, greet him with poisonous shrubs, of species hitherto unknown, that would start up under his fingers? Or might it suffice him, that every wholesome growth should be converted into something deleterious and malignant at his touch.” (Hawthorne, 98) The second line in this quote is important because it mentally connects him to his medicines, and therefore Nature. He thrives off Nature to assist him in his vengeance, although his depends on Nature is an anti-transcendentalist way, he still respects it and understands its power. Secondly, Chillingworth clearly shows the transcendental basis of non-conformity.
Obviously, he is not a Puritan. He unlike the townspeople joined and accepted the Native Americans. Instead of trying to convert them or judge them, he instead learned their ways .He dedicated his life to being a scholar, which at the time was also a rarity, “Skillful men, of the medical and chirurgical profession, were of rare occurrence in the colony.” (Hawthorne, 57) If any character in the novel had an individual mind and independent thought, it would be Roger Chillingworth. Most clearly, he uses all his power to break down and destroy the heart of Mr. Dimmesdale. Although he has a reason for revenge, the entire town sees the reverend as God’s gift to humankind, even an angle! The majority prays for his survival while he sits at his bedside killing his heart day by day. He rejects the Puritan necessity for forgiveness. His free thought is also displayed in the quote, “This unhappy man had made the very principle of his life to consist in the pursuit and systematic exercise of revenge…” (Hawthorne, 177) His mental conscience is clearly corrupt; however, he does not let anyone or anything effect his beliefs and choices when it comes to Arthur Dimmesdale. Overall, Chillingworth is not a complete transcendentalist because of his inherent and selfish nature; however, his view of transcendentalism would be somewhat similar to that of Emerson for example. He clearly demonstrates free thought from his complete obsession with revenge, non-conformity through involvement with Indians and non-Puritan ways, and his scientific connection to Nature through his use of natural herbs.
In The Scarlett Letter, Roger Chillingworth’s full character is revealed and understood through analysis of his deformed and monstrous physical traits, visual symbols and archetypes, and his theoretical view on transcendentalism. Chillingworth’s obsession with revenge ultimately leads to his transformation from an intelligent English scholar to the human form of the devil himself. His angry and bitter soul stands out through his physical traits. His deformed body, his powerful and intruding glares, and his flaming red eyes all capture the devil inside his body. Visual symbols are also used through the novel to explore and analyze his heart of blackness. These visual aids include the archetypical snake reference to allude to a creature of nightmare, the color black to identify him as evil and deathly, and then his transformation from a scientific scholar to a self -destructive monster. After an in-depth analysis of Roger Chillingworth in
The Scarlet Letter, one can better understand the human soul and how it deals with sin and redemption.
Cite this The Scarlet Letter- Robert Chillingworth
The Scarlet Letter- Robert Chillingworth. (2016, Sep 30). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-scarlet-letter-robert-chillingworth/