Reverend Dimmesdale in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter

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Reverend Dimmesdale is one troubled man. He is a brilliant speaker, a kind man, a wise reverend – everyone loves this guy. However, he was also Hester’s illicit lover and the father of her child, Pearl. He remains silent about his sin, even while he publicly urges Hester to reveal the name of her lover. The narrator indicates that Dimmesdale is one of those individuals who secretly practices self-flagellation to punish himself for his sin. This suggests that he is susceptible to shame, but secretive about it; he prefers to punish himself rather than to be punished by others.

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It also leaves open the question that emerges later: did Dimmesdale create the mark on his chest himself, or was it put there by the Black Man, or did it emerge on his skin because of the struggle occurring in his soul? Dimmesdale is a hypocrite through much of the book. He remains the respected and saintly minister on the outside, but his conscience eats away at him until he can hardly stand himself. His sin is almost portrayed as distant thunder; it is hiding and waiting to explode out into the world.

He wants people to see him for who he really is. For seven years, Dimmesdale is silent, and his health declines as a result. Today, he might be considered depressed and that it is so bad that it becomes fatal. In Christian theology, sin leads to death unless an individual accepts God’s free gift of forgiveness. In Dimmesdale’s case, the sin he does not confess in essence drives him to his demise. The Reverend Dimmesdale represents a weak man who sins but fails to accept public condemnation for his sin.

His subsequent hypocrisy, however, eats away at him until his health fails. Recognizing that death is imminent, he chooses to purify his soul at the last minute by confessing his sin publicly and revealing the scarlet letter A that has appeared on his chest over his heart. The symbol on his skin suggests that, though sins can be hidden for a while, they will always surface and be revealed. Source Statement Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. 14th. New York: The Modern Library, 2000. Print.

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