The Scarlet Letter Essay

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"But (Hester) is not the protagonist; the chief actor, and the tragedy of The Scarlet Letter is not her tragedy, but Dimmesdales. He it was whom the sorrows of death encompassed..... His public confession is one of the noblest climaxes of tragic literature."

This statement by Randall Stewart does not contain the same ideas that I believed were contained within The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I, on the contrary to Stewart's statement, think Dimmesdale is a coward and a hypocrite. Worse, he is a self-confessed coward and hypocrite. He knows what he has to do to still the voice of his conscience and make his peace with God. Throughout the entire story his confession remains an obstacle . While Hester is a relatively constant character, Dimmesdale is incredibly dynamic. From his fall with Hester, he moves, in steps, toward his public hint of sinning at the end of the novel. 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 one of 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 cleric devoted to higher things. Unlike other young men, Dimmesdale cannot accept his loss of innocence and go on from there. He must struggle futilely to get back to where he was. Torn between the desire to confess and atone the cowardice which holds him back, Dimmesdale goes slightly mad. He takes up some morbid forms of penance-fasts and scourgings-but he can neither whip nor starve the sin from his soul. In his agony, he staggers to the pulpit to confess, but his words come out generalized, and meaningless declarations of guilt.

The reverend seems to want to reveal himself, but Chillingworth's influence and his own shame are stronger than his weak conscience. Dimmesdale cannot surrender an identity which brings him the love and admiration of his parishioners. He is far too intent on his earthly image to willingly reveal his sin. Once Hester explains Chillingworth's plans, and thus breaks Chillingworth's spell, Dimmesdale begins to overcome him. 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 down the "slippery slope" even further.

I, unlike the community, think there is a problem with Dimmesdale. During his struggles to tell his parishioners the truth, they misunderstand his statements, he loses his faith, which is never completely regained. Dimmesdale's sin has eaten away at him, reducing him to a shriveling, pathetic creature. The only thing that brings him any strength is a re-affirmation of his sin with Hester, and the plot to escape the town (201): "It was the exhilarating effect-upon a prisoner just escaped from the dungeon of his own heart-of breathing the wild, free atmosphere of an unredeemed, unchristianized, lawless region." In short, fallen nature has set him free from his inner distress, but left him in an "unchristianized" world, a heathen world, damnation. He has given in to sin. He has, in effect, willingly agreed to commit more sins. Dimmesdale realizes he is doing this but is too much of a coward to admit his original sin to the public. He becomes a figure that no one can help but himself.

Dimmesdale begins as a fallen man, falls farther, and near the end is, according to Mistress Hibbins, a servant of 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 a mouth of truth. Dimmesdale attempts to recover, though, with a massive effort, when he ascends the scaffold with Hester and Pearl. When Chillingworth exclaims, "Thou hast escaped me!" (256), he is speaking not only for himself, but for Evil. Dimmesdale has at least escaped damnation. He makes another small step forward when Pearl kisses him. "A spell was broken" (256). The redeeming angel has pulled Dimmesdale clear of the shadow of sin but not away from its' presence. After the kiss, Dimmesdale returns to speaking