The Scarlet Letter
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Like all of Hawthorne's novels, "The Scarlet Letter" has but a slender plot and but few characters with an influence on the development of the story. Its great dramatic force depends entirely on the mental states of the actors and their relations to one another, —relations of conscience, — relations between wronged and wrongers. Its great burden is the weight of unacknowledged sin as seen in the remorse and cowardice and suffering of the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale. Contrasted with his concealed agony is the constant confession, conveyed by the letter, which is forced upon Hester, and has a double effect, — a healthful one, working beneficently, and making her helpful and benevolent, tolerant and thoughtful ; and an unhealthful one, which by the great emphasis placed on her transgression, the keeping her forever under its ban and isolating her from her fellows, prepares her to break away from the long repression and lapse again into sin when she plans her flight. Roger Chillingworth is an embodiment of subtle and refined revenge. The most striking situation is perhaps "The Minister's Vigil," in chapter xii. The book, though corresponding in its tone and burden to some of the shorter stories, had a more startling and dramatic character, and a strangeness, which at once took hold of a larger public than any of those had attracted. Though imperfectly comprehended, and even misunderstood in some quarters, it was seen to have a new and unique quality; and Hawthorne's reputation became national.
proclivities. Hester’s lover, then, shall be a minister, for the priest of that day “stood at the head of the social system;” and, moreover,—a main object of the story being to show that no sacred vows nor sublime aspirations can relieve mortal man from the common human liability to guilt,—Dimmesdale himself must commit the most fatal of the sins against which the priest is supposed to provide protection; nay, he is the actual spiritual adviser of her whom he ruins. Young and comely he must be,
steeple-crowned progenitor, —who came so early, with his Bible and his sword, and trode the unworn street with such a stately port, and made so large a figure, as a man of war and peace,—a stronger claim than for myself, whose name is seldom heard and my face hardly known. He was a soldier, legislator, judge; he was a ruler in the Church; he had all the Puritanic traits, both good and evil. He was likewise a bitter persecutor; as witness the Quakers, who have remembered him in their histories,
fantasy of a mother,—methinks she might yet have thrown a pitying glance towards her son! And now, through the chamber which these spectral thoughts had made so ghastly, glided Hester Prynne, leading along little Pearl, in her scarlet garb, and pointing her forefinger, first, at the scarlet letter on her bosom, and then at the clergyman’s own breast. None of these visions ever quite deluded him. At any moment, by an effort of his will, he could discern substances through their misty lack of
his naked breast, right over his heart. On that spot, in very truth, there was, and there had long been, the gnawing and poisonous tooth of bodily pain. Without any effort of his will, or power to restrain himself, he shrieked aloud; an outcry that went pealing through the night, and was beaten back from one house to another, and reverberated from the hills in the background; as if a company of devils detecting so much misery and terror in it, had made a plaything of the sound, and were bandying
impossible to doubt, that, whatever painful efficacy there might be in the secret sting of remorse, a deadlier venom had been infused into it by the hand that proffered relief. A secret enemy had been continually by his side, under the semblance of a friend and helper, and had availed himself of the opportunities thus afforded for tampering with the delicate springs of Mr. Dimmesdale’s nature. Hester could not but ask herself, whether there had not originally been a defect of truth, courage, and