The Scarlet Letter-Arthur Dimmesdale Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, a main character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, proves to be a sinner against man, against God and most importantly against himself because he has committed adultery with Hester Prynne, resulting in an illegitimate child, Pearl. His sinning against himself, for which he ultimately paid the price of death, proved to be more harmful and more destructive than this sin of the flesh, and his sin against God. Socrates said, “Know thyself,” and Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” If Reverend Dimmesdale had been true to himself he certainly wouldn’t have suffered as much as he did. What drove Dimmesdale to hold in his self-condemning truth? To answer this, it’s necessary to examine the whole character of Reverend Dimmesdale while explaining his sinful situation. Dimmesdale is not ignorant, he is very well educated.
As Hawthorne states, ” .. Rev. 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.” (Hawthorne 72) This man’s morals had, until the adultery, been high. He is very spiritual because on top of being of the Puritan faith, he is a minister of the word of God. Throughout most of the novel, Rev.
Dimmesdale is forced to hide his guilt of being Hester’s partner in sin. When in reality, he is not being forced by anyone, but himself, for he is the one who chooses not to reveal his secret to the town. Dimmesdalehas a concealed sin that is, eating at him. He just doesn’t have the courage to admit his wrongs. He seems to be a coward during these seven years of living with guilt. There is a scene in chapter 3 where Rev.
Dimmesdale states, “Hester Prynne .. If thou feelest it to be for thy soul’s peace, and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, 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 for him, except it tempt him-yea compel him as it were-to add hypocrisy to sin?” (73) In this scene it is almost as if we see Dimmesdale speaking as a hypocrite, himself! Dimmesdale portrays himself very ironically. He is a very well respected reverend and yet, has, for the last 7 years, worked on preaching the word of God, especially while he urges the congregation to confess openly to repent unto God. While, in reality, Dimmesdale is the one whoneeds a clean conscious. He feels like he needs to confess not only to the town but also too himself.
Halfway through the novel Dimmesdale has yet to reveal the truth, which, so far, has been devouring him, physically and mentally. Since this good reverend is so spiritual, he cannot reveal his truths to the town so simply. He is of the Puritan faith and being a follower of that, the sin of adultery is a very grand sin. The whole town would look down on him as if he were a hypocrite. Which in fact, he is, but his sin of adultery in that town would have been scoffed at just as Hester’s has.
The reverend is so well liked by the townsfolk that Hawthorne states, “They fancied him the mouthpiece of Heaven’s messages of wisdom, rebuke, and love. In their eyes, the very ground on which he trod was sanctified.” ( 139 ) How else can the reverend live without revealing his identity? He has been doing it for seven years, and it must be hard for him, mentally and physically. Mentally, his whole body shuts down because he cannot take it anymore, even though he does not give in to confess yet. He has become emaciated because he has let the sin against himself churn inside and on the outside he has spent many nights whipping himself. Perhaps this is a sign for him to feel he has punished himself, as God would have punished him, if he were on Earth. One day while Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth are talking about medicinal weeds that Chillingworth found on an old grave that had no tombstone or marking whatsoever, Chillingworth says to Dimmesdale, ” ..
They grew out of his heart, and typify, it may be, some hideous secret that was buried with him, and which he had done better to confess during his lifetime.” ( 129 ) It’s as if Chillingworth can tell that Rev. Dimmesdale is hiding something, something that could be the cause of his health depleting. Chillingworth then states that, “Then why not reveal them here ?” ( 129 ) Chillingworth knows, he simply knows that there is something else, something that Dimmesdale has not yet come forth to tell him. Dimmesdale, in chapter 12, is finally realizing that it could be a better thing to disclose his secret to the town. He has become so weak that he has even thought about his own death. He has walked to the scaffold and climbed up as if he wants to proclaim something. And yet, it is nighttime and the whole town is resting. Some are at the deathbed of the ailing governor who has just died.
They do not notice him. As Hester and Pearl walk by, Dimmesdale tells them, “Come up hither, Hester, thou and little Pearl .. Ye have both been here before, but I was not with you. Come up hither once again, and we will stand all three together!” ( 148 ) Dimmesdale has obviously been thinking that he wants to reveal himself, but his choice of the hour tells the reader that he cannot confess in the day, not yet. Pearl herself knows or at least feels that this is right, that the three of them together is a match, because she says, “Wilt thou stand here with Mother and me, tomorrow noontide?” ( 148 ) But Dimmesdale refuses, “Not so, my child. I shall, indeed, stand with thy mother and thee one other day, but not tomorrow.” (148-149 ) Dimmesedale is coming close to speaking, but he doesn’t.
He reveals his truths to the town after he has preached a his finest sermon and after the town is holding him so very high on a pedestal. Dimmesdale says to the town, ” .. ye, that have loved me!-ye that have deemed me holy!-behold me here, the one sinner of the world! At last!-at last!-I stand upon the spot where, seven years since, I should have stood ; here, with this woman .. ” ( 237 ) Now that Dimmesdale confesses his secret, he can die. He has admitted to being the father of Hester Prynne’s child, Pearl, and his poor corpse, which is so deathly, can rest in peace now.
His mind is well aware that it can live on knowing that the truth is out but his body is so battered that it cannot go on living. Dimmesdale has sinned against God, and more importantly against himself. Yes, he has not lived a true life because for seven years he has lived in denial of his sin. It did prove to be more harmful in the end, since he died on the scaffold while standing next to his fellow-sinner Hester. He knew that he needed to reveal himself but in his Puritan ways, it was hard to confess. The irony he portrays and the hypocrisy that he lives is such a grand sin in itself.
He lived looking his sin in the face every single day, because he was a minister and not only would have to answer to the townsfolk after he had admitted but he had to face God everyday. His character has perhaps the central struggle in this novel, for he has the struggle within, and the struggle portrayed outwardly to the town, and Hester. He is definitely a very dramatic character in this novel, or Hawthorne would not have stated this quote about him, “Be true ! Be true ! Be true ! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred.” ( 242 ) When Hawthorne made this quote in reference to Rev. Dimmesdale, he meant many things. He said that he should “be true” and ” ..
show freely to the world” because Dimmesdale should have showed his true feelings about Hester, and his feelings that he kept hidden for 7 years about the adultery then, he would have much more relief. When the quote says ” .. if not your worst .. whereby the worst may be inferred,” Hawthorne is saying that if you cannot at least get out the worst trait that you have been indicted of, you should try to get a point across that would aid in the finding of that worst trait. By this quote, Hawthorne thought that if Dimmesdale had only confessed earlier then he would have saved himself from all the torment he had put himself through.
In addition, Hawthorne meant that the town, itself, would still have scoffed but wouldn’t have remembered the sin of adultery as much now, as back then when Hester got accused as well. So, Hawthorne would not have stated that quote if he did not believe that. Book Reports.