The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Throughout the nineteenth-century great strides were being made in the medical field, including exposition of “natural” remedies and responses the body had to coming in contact with certain plants or chemicals. These advances sank into the lifestyles and minds of those who were exposed to these findings and resonated throughout the writings and reasoning of literary artists of the time. One such writer was none other than the infamous Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne made use of these scientific breakthroughs as vital elements in several of his pieces, including Rappaccini’s Daughter and The Scarlet Letter. In the latter, the reader is presented with Roger Chillingworth, a well-financed foreigner seeking revenge. Chillingworth is willing to go to extreme lengths to rid the world of the adulterer Reverend Dimmesdale. Chillingworth takes up residence with Dimmesdale while he performs multiple “medical treatments”, one if which presumably leads to Dimmesdale’s untimely demise. Hawthorne subtly created an unnerving and mysterious aura around Chillingworth’s medical practices leaving readers to wonder what happened behind the closed doors of the Reverend’s house. While Chillingworth is indeed a vile, treacherous antagonist capable of slowly bleeding out his victim, Hawthorne’s dubbing of Chillingworth as “The Leech” carries significance not only in the physical sense, but also in the medical.
According to Samuel James Lubell, author of “From Wizard to Scientist: Changing Views Towards Scientists From Hawthorne to Twain”, the common person in the 1800’s had little to no understanding of the scientific breakthroughs of the time. The eyes of the bourgeois were clouded and unfocused. They saw scientists as sorcerers with no lines separating...

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...g him. (Jones)
This induces the idea that perhaps Chillingworth discovered the secrets of Dimmesdale’s tortured soul without the reverend’s knowing. Chillingworth made use of his chemical knowledge to slowly drag the guilt out of Dimmesdale, only to be replaced with a dangerous poison. Hawthorne subtly hints at the fact that Chillingworth is beyond a doctor and is rather a practitioner of the dark arts.

Works Cited

Jones, Wanda Faye. “Scopolamine Poisoning and the Death of Dimmesdale in “The Scarlet Letter.” Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 32.1 (2006): 52-62. Literary Reference Center. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.
Khan JA. "Atropine Poisoning in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter." NEJM311(6) (1984): 414-416. Web. 2 Dec. 2013.
Lubell, James Samuel. “From Wizard to Scientist: Changing Views Towards Scientists from Hawthorne to Twain (Part 1).” The WSFA Journal. (2000). 1 Dec. 2013.
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