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His actions were simply a display of a common human weakness. Even though the morals and values of the 17th century hold adultery as one of the worst possible sins you could commit, the way he dealt with the resulting emotions and the self inflicted punishment earn him pity. He suffers more than anyone else in the book. Hester's sin is out in the open and she has made her peace with it. It was much more difficult, and more tormenting for Dimmesdale to have kept it secret. He punishes himself far more than anyone else ever could. Despite Dimmesdale’s display of weakness, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale has earned my pity and I think others should sympathize with him too. Dimmesdale is first portrayed as a nervous and sensitive individual. The best description of the ordained Puritan minister can be found in chapter III, The Recognition, in which Hawthorne states, “…Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale; a young clergyman, who had come from one of the great English universities, bringing all the learning of the age into our wild forestland. His eloquence and religious fervor had already given the earnest of high eminence in his profession. He was a person of very striking aspect, with a white, lofty, and impending brow, large, brown, melancholy eyes, and a mouth which, unless when he forcibly compressed it, was apt to be tremulous, expressing both nervous sensibility and a vast power of self-
restraint.” (Hawthorne 61.) It would appear that Dimmesdale is the epitome of human weakness and sorrow. Obviously he is a sensitive man and it is apparent in The Scarlet Letter that his devotion to God and passion for his religion make him effective in the pulpit. Dimmesdale's one-paragraph speech in The Recognition to Hester reveals more about his character than any description of his physical body and nervous habits that Hawthorne provides (Hawthorne 62.) Knowing that he was Hester's sexual partner and is Pearl's father, the speech that Dimmesdale gives is filled with double meanings. On one level, he is giving a public scolding of Hester for not naming her lover. On another level, however, he makes a personal plea to her to name him as her lover and Pearl's father because he is too morally weak to do so himself. The speech is ironic because what is initially intended to be a speech about Hester becomes more a commentary about his own sinful behavior. The speech invokes a strong feeling of sympathy in the crowd, sympathy that should belong to Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale has the principal conflict in the novel, and his agony and suffering are the direct result of his inability to reveal his sin. While the power of self restraint seems to give Dimmesdale great strength, his self restraint is also his utmost weakness. His body refuses to do what his heart says is right. In his one-paragraph speech (Hawthorne 63,) Dimmesdale urges Hester to reveal the truth, but when she refuses he doesn’t have the willpower to confess himself. Therefore, his sin blossoms into one even
larger than hers. Hester’s sin is exposed, so the only thing it can do is gradually fade away, as new scandals present themselves to the community. Dimmesdale, on the other hand, continues to lie to himself and his followers by keeping his secret hidden and concealed. The more he prolongs the unveiling of his sin, the larger it grows. Hawthorne is showing us just how strong Dimmesdale actually is. By allowing Dimmesdale to hide his sin and bear the weight of it, Hawthorne creates an interesting and tremendously strong character. While some may argue that Arthur Dimmesdale should be scorned and condemned for his weakness as a man, I think he has already scorned and condemned himself enough. He punishes himself far more than anyone else ever could, eventually turning to extreme instances of this such as self flagellation. Some say that only by being an honest, forthright person can one be truly human, but I disagree. I think it is human nature to lie and usually people lie to protect somebody’s best interests. While this doesn’t necessarily justify lying, it certainly explains it. In spite of his horrible sin, Dimmesdale is still a good man. He is well respected for good reasons; he is well educated, passionate about his career, and has a good morals. His conscious is active, which proves that he has a good heart. When Dimmesdale had sexual relations with Hester, they were both under the impression that Hester’s husband, Chillingworth, was lost at sea. In the 17th century it was undoubtedly a sin to have relations with another man after someone’s spouse disappeared or died, but today that seems quite
unreasonable and unfair. In fact, this was established in the Declaration of Independence- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are three of the unalienable rights of man. Dimmesdale was simply practicing one of what would become one of the unalienable rights of man. Arthur Dimmesdale is a passionate person who was forced to live in a passionless society. Clearly, he should be pitied and saved, for he has already punished himself enough.