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Sabel Bargmann

Miss Zey

English 11

28 January 2009

The Scarlet Letter Literary Analysis

“…I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer! Be not

silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step

down from a high place, and stand there beside thee on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than

to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do to him, except it tempt him-yea, compel him,

as it were-to add hypocrisy to sin? Take heed how thou deniest to him-who, perchance, hath not the

courage to grasp it for himself-the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips”

(Hawthorne 20). This speech was given to Hester Prynne by the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale because

she refused to give out the name of her lover and the father of her child. To anyone who heard this, it

seemed like the minister was sorrowful and blamed himself because she was part of his congregation.

Throughout the novel, Mr. Dimmesdale seemed somewhat remorseful and ill yet no one seemed to know

why. In the Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne used the theme of Appearance versus Reality for the

character Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale by showing how the public viewed him and how he viewed

himself in private.

“…She hath raised a great scandal, I promise you, in godly Master Dimmesdale’s

church” (14). The stranger, who had just arrived into town, asked the townsman who was standing next

to him about the woman and babe on the scaffold. The man replied that her name is Hester Prynne and

that she committed adultery. Her punishment should have been worse but instead she must wear the

scarlet letter A at all times, for the remainder of her natural life. In the public’s eye, Reverend Mr.

Dimmesdale was seen as almost “god-like” and a man who could do no wrong. To his congregation, he
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was a just and trustworthy leader. Roger Chillingworth, after arriving into town, decided that the

Reverend Dimmesdale would be his spiritual guide. After taking notice of Dimmesdale’s failing health,

chose to become his personal physician after the Reverend was persuaded by the townspeople. “The

young divine…was considered…as little less than a heavenly, ordained apostle and if he (Mr.

Dimmesdale) were really going to die, it was cause enough that the world was not worthy to be any

longer trodden by his feet” (71). As a man, a moral and law abiding citizen who sought out the wisdom

of the magistrate and the town council for guidance. Shortly after arriving into town, Dimmesdale’s

health began to fail and after being observed by those who were acquainted with his habits, established

that “the paleness of the young minister’s cheek was accounted for by his too earnest devotion to

study…was often observed on any slight alarm or other sudden accident, to put his hand over his heart,

with first a flush and then a paleness, indicative of pain” (71).

“Were it God’s will, I could be well content that my labors, and my sorrows, and my sins,

and my pains should shortly end with me…” (73). Roger Chillingworth, along with the townspeople,

encouraged Reverend Dimmesdale to allow the physician to take care of him, since they were concerned

about his health being so poor and the Reverend finally agreed. Despite what people thought about

Arthur Dimmesdale, he had a dark and mysterious secret that could change his life forever if it was

found out. On several occasions, he is seen with his hand over his heart and wincing in pain, as if there

was a wound there. “I, whom you behold in these black garments of priesthood…I, your pastor, whom

you so reverence and trust, am utterly a pollution and a lie” (95). As his burden becomes heavier to

carry, Dimmesdale begins to rethink his reasons and strategies as to why he wanted his burden to be a

secret and now wished to tell the people about his sin but is afraid of what would happen if he did. On

many occasions, he had told the people who would hear him that, “he was altogether vile…the worst of

sinners, an abomination” (95). His internal problem drove him to use the practices that were used by the
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Romans. He would fast and use a scourge to whip himself with for penance until he could no longer

stand, hoping that it would purify his soul.

“Ye that have deemed me holy!-behold me here, the one sinner of the world!-I stand upon

the spot where…I should have stood; here, with this woman… (209). After giving his sermon,

Dimmesdale left the church, climbed upon the scaffold, and called to Hester and Pearl to join him.

Seeing this, Roger Chillingworth tried to convince Dimmesdale to not “blacken his fame and perish in

dishonor” (207), but failed because Dimmesdale said that with the help of God, he would escape

Chillingworth’s grasp. The crowd that gathered around the scaffold was in a riot-many of the men who

were of great importance, were so taken by surprise that they remained silent. The people became even

more shocked when the Reverend bared his chest to them, which some said to have the letter “A”

branded onto his chest over his heart, and after showing that, he collapsed upon the scaffold. “The law

we broke-when we violated our reverence each for the other’s soul-it was thenceforth vain to hope that

we could meet hereafter in an everlasting and pure union…” (211). Moments after he collapsed, Hester

held his head against her breast, supporting him. She asked him if they were to meet again in the

afterlife of Heaven and spend their immortal lives together. He replied that since they had sinned, there

would be no reunion for them. His final words before dying in Hester’s arms were, “Praised be his

name! His will be done…” (211). Many believed the mark was made to appear by Roger Chillingworth

with magic and poisonous drugs, some say there never was a mark upon his breast, and others believed

that he never was the father of Pearl, and that he only felt sorry for the woman and her child.

By using the theme of appearance versus reality, Nathaniel Hawthorne showed how the

public viewed Arthur Dimmesdale and how he viewed himself in private. He was seen as a saint among

men, trustworthy and moral-his views was different-he saw himself as a sinner, coward, a hypocrite, and

a man who did not feel any remorse or guilt for what he did. Many would say the devil tempted him and

others would say that he could not help who he loved. Whether or not the people saw a mark on his
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chest made no difference, it was what Dimmesdale had been trying to say all along-“Be true! Be true!

Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred”

(215).

Work Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Bantam, 1986.

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