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Daniela Grgas
Ms. Yeaton
Pre-Ap English, Period 6
16 November 2017
The Scarlet Letter Analysis

In the historical fiction novel by Nathanial Hawthorne, supporting character, Reverend

Arthur Dimmesdale’s role in the Puritan community is developed through Hawthorne’s

language. Dimmesdale is the reverend in Providence and is held to the highest standard amongst

those in the community, yet he goes against his faith to have an affair with Hester Prynne, the

main character of the novel. Amidst Dimmesdale’s man versus self conflict, Hawthorne builds

his character by providing contrasting images through the use of figurative language, syntax, and


Figurative language plays a key role in Hawthorne’s novels, and rhetorical devices are

vital in The Scarlet Letter to display the town’s perception of Reverend Dimmesdale as well as

his internal struggles through different stages in the novel. Dimmesdale is held to a high standard

in Providence as he is responsible for “bringing all the learning of the age into [their] wild forest-

land”, and “his eloquence and religious fervor had already given the earnest of high eminence in

his profession” (Hawthorne 57). Taken from the exposition of the novel, Hawthorne’s metaphor

and description implicitly states the town’s necessity for Dimmesdale and the knowledge he has

brought of the modern world. Describing Providence as a “wild forest-land” prior to the arrival

of Reverend Dimmesdale allows Hawthorne to begin the construction of an impactful character,

Reverend Dimmesdale. Moreover, as the guilt of the affair continues to ravage Dimmesdale, he

is seen in another light through the voice of the narrator. Symbolically standing on the scaffold

where criminals are demanded to stand, “Dimmesdale was overcome with a great horror of mind,
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as if the universe were gazing at a scarlet token on his naked breast” as he continues to repent for

his sin (Hawthorne 123). Hawthorne’s use of symbolism depicts a contrast from how

Dimmesdale was originally perceived, a renowned reverend, to now, a criminal, and this contrast

is shown to signify how Dimmesdale’s great sin hurts him internally compared to Hester who is

face-to-face with her sin as the scarlet letter burns on her chest. A greater margin develops

throughout the novel between the view of Dimmesdale as he loses the battle of his sin on his own

depicted through the use of rhetorical devices.

Furthermore, Hawthorne’s syntax aids in implying an underlying message throughout the

dialogue and thoughts of Reverend Dimmesdale. In efforts to defend Hester in being able to keep

Pearl, Dimmesdale exclaims, “‘My poor woman, the child shall be well cared for! – far better

than thou canst do it!’” (Hawthorne 94). The abrupt exclamation coming from a relatively timid

Mr. Dimmesdale took back Governor Bellingham and Roger Chillingworth, and this desire to

protect Hester was one of the many clues to Chillingworth of Dimmesdale’s hidden sin.

Hawthorne’s specific use of an exclamatory statement covertly shows Dimmesdale’s character,

and that he still has feelings for Hester, so he will do anything to protect her while trying to

remain undercover. As Dimmesdale’s inner struggles continue, the narrator uses a series of

rhetorical queries to question Dimmesdale; “ – when it had now become a constant habit, rather

than a casual gesture, to press his hand over his heart? Was he weary of his labors? Did he wish

to die?” (Hawthorne 101). The use of this interrogation is to explicitly state how Dimmesdale is

being perceived differently amongst elder ministers and others of the community. In addition, the

series of questions foreshadows to the true feelings of Dimmesdale as the narrator questions if he

wishes to die. Hawthorne’s syntax develops Dimmesdale’s characterization by giving insight to

the behavior of Dimmesdale and the views of Dimmesdale through specific sentence structures.
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Additionally, Hawthorne’s moralistic diction yet contrasting, hopeless tone reflects onto

Dimmesdale’s character. While Dimmesdale was showered under a positive light, Hawthorne’s

positive word choice accompanied the description of Dimmesdale’s character. As he speaks to

Hester in order to relieve her from her sin his “voice was tremulously sweet, rich, deep, and

broken […] the words, caused it to vibrate within all hearts, and brought the listeners into one

accord of sympathy” (Hawthorne 58). Hawthorne’s positive connotation when describing

Dimmesdale correlates to his relationship with morals and the Puritan faith. However, the

positive view of Dimmesdale begins to deteriorate to himself along with others around him as he

struggles with his guilt. He begins to feel hopeless as if there is no way out of the hole he had

dug himself into as he believes “Remorse dogged him everywhere, and whose own sister and

closely linked companion was that Cowardice which invariably drew him back” (Hawthorne

122). Dimmesdale’s despairing outlook on the way he looks at his new life is escorted by

Hawthorne’s negatively connotated words such as “Remorse” and “Cowardice”. Hawthorne’s

use of moralistic diction and hopeless tone develops Reverend Dimmesdale’s characterization as

he puts his internal torment on display.

Hawthorne’s specific language aids in developing Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale as an

influential character to the plot of The Scarlet Letter. Through the use of figurative language,

syntax, and diction/tone, Hawthorne is able to provide contrasting images of Dimmesdale to

build his character. The struggles of man versus self conflict are put on display to show the effect

of guilt on a highly regarded character in the Puritan community.