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The Scarlet Letter  - Dimmesdale and the Scaffold Scenes


In Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," there are three very important scenes that all take place at the town scaffold, a place of great shame in their strict Puritan society. These scenes represent the progression of Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale over the course of the story. Each scene involves him in some way and one can easily see that he has changed dramatically in all three.

The first scaffold scene takes place in the very beginning of the story. Hester Prynne, a woman who has committed adultery and will not name the father of her child, is forced to stand upon the scaffold in shame for three hours in front of a crowd of people. Dimmesdale, who is later revealed as the father, openly denies his sin and even goes as far as telling Hester to "speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer," in order to make sure that nobody suspects him. While the author doesn't make his guilt very obvious, he does give a few hints that suggest Dimmesdale does have some sort of hidden secret. In this scene, the Reverend shows his original strength of character, which he slowly loses over the course of the story.

Seven years later, in the middle of the night, Dimmesdale finally admits to his sin while standing on the scaffold, just as Hester did so very long ago. It has been eating away at him all this time and feels that he also must be punished, though he cannot bring himself to confess publicly. He even brands his chest with the same letter "A" that Hester has been forced to wear upon her clothing to show that she is an adulterer.

In the third and final scaffold scene, Dimmesdale finally reveals his secret to the public. And as "Pearl kissed his lips...a spell was broken," Dimmesdale conquers his guilt and dies right there on the scaffold with an open conscience. He also escapes Roger Chillingworth, who symbolizes the Devil, when he says to him, "With God's help, I shall escape thee now!"

Each of the three scaffold scenes shows the changes that Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale goes through during the story. He goes from being a very strong man with a guilty conscience in the first scene to being completely worn down by that guilt in the second. And then in the third scene, he triumphs by finally freeing himself of his terrible guilt.
 

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