The Scarlet LetterEssay”But (Hester) is not the protagonist; thechief actor, and the tragedy of The Scarlet Letter is not her tragedy,but Dimmesdales. He it was whom the sorrows of death encompassed. . . .
. Hispublic confession is one of the noblest climaxes of tragic literature. “This statement by Randall Stewart doesnot contain the same ideas that I believed were contained within The ScarletLetter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I, on the contrary to Stewart’s statement,think Dimmesdale is a coward and a hypocrite. Worse, he is a self-confessedcoward and hypocrite. He knows what he has to do to still the voice ofhis conscience and make his peace with God.Order now
Throughout the entire storyhis confession remains an obstacle . While Hester is a relatively constantcharacter, Dimmesdale is incredibly dynamic. From his fall with Hester,he moves, in steps, toward his public hint of sinning at the end of thenovel. He tries to unburden himself of his sin by revealing it to his congregation,but somehow can never quite manage this.
He is a typical diagnosis of a”wuss”. To some extent, Dimmesdale’s story is oneof a single man tempted into the depths of the hormonal world. This world,however, is a place where the society treats sexuality with ill grace. But his problem is enormously complicated by the fact of Hester’s marriage(for him no technicality), and by his own image of himself as a clericdevoted to higher things.
Unlike other young men, Dimmesdale cannot accepthis loss of innocence and go on from there. He must struggle futilely toget back to where he was. Torn between the desire to confess and atonethe cowardice which holds him back, Dimmesdale goes slightly mad. He takesup some morbid forms of penance-fasts and scourgings-but he can neitherwhip nor starve the sin from his soul.
In his agony, he staggers to thepulpit to confess, but his words come out generalized, and meaninglessdeclarations of guilt. The reverend seems to want to reveal himself,but Chillingworth’s influence and his own shame are stronger than his weakconscience. Dimmesdale cannot surrender an identity which brings him thelove and admiration of his parishioners. He is far too intent on his earthlyimage to willingly reveal his sin. Once Hester explains Chillingworth’splans, and thus breaks Chillingworth’s spell, Dimmesdale begins to overcomehim.
He does it, though, in a way which brings him even more earthly glory. Thus, he never loses his cherished image, and consequently, is pushed downthe “slippery slope” even further. I, unlike the community, think there isa problem with Dimmesdale. During his struggles to tell his parishionersthe truth, they misunderstand his statements, he loses his faith, whichis never completely regained. Dimmesdale’s sin has eaten away at him, reducinghim to a shriveling, pathetic creature.
The only thing that brings himany strength is a re-affirmation of his sin with Hester, and the plot toescape the town (201): “It was the exhilarating effect-upon a prisonerjust escaped from the dungeon of his own heart-of breathing the wild, freeatmosphere of an unredeemed, unchristianized, lawless region. ” In short,fallen nature has set him free from his inner distress, but left him inan “unchristianized” world, a heathen world, damnation. He has given into sin. He has, in effect, willingly agreed to commit more sins. Dimmesdalerealizes he is doing this but is too much of a coward to admit his originalsin to the public.
He becomes a figure that no one can help but himself. Dimmesdale begins as a fallen man, fallsfarther, and near the end is, according to Mistress Hibbins, a servantof the devil (242). Hibbins’ words, however, should not be taken lightly. She seems to be one of the only characters who shows herself to have amouth of truth.
Dimmesdale attempts to recover, though, with a massiveeffort, when he ascends the scaffold with Hester and Pearl. When Chillingworthexclaims, “Thou hast escaped me!” (256), he is speaking not only for himself,but for Evil. Dimmesdale has at least escaped damnation. He makes anothersmall step forward when Pearl kisses him. “A spell was broken” (256). Theredeeming angel has pulled Dimmesdale clear of the shadow of sin but notaway from its’ presence.
After the kiss, Dimmesdale returns to speakingof God as merciful, and returns to praising Him. He claims, “Had eitherof these agonies been wanting, I had been lost for ever!” (257). He believeshimself to be saved. I, on the contrary believe that his attempt to confesswas not a complete confession at all. He never truly states that he hadcommitted adultery with Hester, and that Pearl was, in fact, his daughter.
The reverend could bring them up to the scaffold, but still did not havethe courage to honestly confess. The sermon in which there was supposedto be a “noble climax,” was empty of such a thing. An incomplete confessionis a useless one to the people of the town, and that is exactly what Dimmesdalehad. Dimmesdale’s problem, during the courseof the story, is that he isn’t much of a priest.
He has lost his faith,and is thus false to himself, his congregation, and his god. Yet his penancehas been much more harsh. It seems that the heroic effort Dimmesdale makesto climb back into the light is an effort that only a desperate man couldhave made. He used all his strength to make one final grasp at redemptionbut still falls quite short.
Dimmesdale has the potential, though, ofclimbing much higher after death. Hester is as Hester was and as Hesterwill always be. Dimmesdale, the weak, fallen priest, was taken from earthat the height of his pathetic ascent because if he hadn’t been, he wouldsurely have fallen again. It is as if God was waiting for him to make hislast, valiant leap to reach Him, and then snatched him at the apex of hispathetic trajectory. Dimmesdale is redeemed, but, it would seem, conditionally.
If the Puritans believed in a Purgatory, Dimmesdale would be there. However,with only a Heaven and Hell, Dimmesdale must be admitted into Heaven, grudgingly. Hawthorne writes, “According to these highlyrespectable witnesses, the minister, conscious that he was dying,–conscious,also, that the reverence of the multitude placed him already among saintsand angels. .
. ” (259). Hawthorne simply can’t accept Dimmesdale’s totalredemption any more than he could Hester’s, the same reason being: sinis permanent. When Hawthorne follows this passage with, “Without disputinga truth so momentous,” it is clear he is being sarcastic. All of these comments and observationsmake it quite clear that Dimmesdale is a complete coward. He has the chancethroughout the entire novel to confess.
Despite it all, he is caught upin the fame and the excitement of his reverend-hood, which pushes him downthe “slippery slope” inch by inch. His confession is never a true publicone, and because of that, I believe the last scene of the novel was notquite as noble as Randall Stewart claims.