Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, a main character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, proves to be a sinner against man, against God and most importantly against himself because he has committed adultery with Hester Prynne, resulting in an illegitimate child, Pearl. His sinning against himself, for which he ultimately paid the
price of death, proved to be more harmful and more destructive than this sin of the flesh, and his sin against God. Socrates said, “Knowthyself,” and Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” If Reverend Dimmesdale had been true to himself he certainly wouldn’t have suffered as much as he did. What drove Dimmesdale to hold in his self-condemning truth? To answer this, it’s necessary to examine the whole character of Reverend Dimmesdale while explaining his sinful situation.
Dimmesdale is not ignorant, he is very well educated. As Hawthorne states, “…Rev. Mr. Dimmesdale; a young clergyman who had come from one of the great English universities, bringing all the learning of the age into our wild forestland. His eloquence and religious fervor had already given the earnest of high eminence in his profession.” (Hawthorne 72) This man’s morals had, until the adultery, been high. He is very spiritual because on top of being of the Puritan faith, he is a minister of the word of God. Throughout most of the novel, Rev. Dimmesdale is forced to hide his guilt of being Hester’s partner in sin. When in reality, he is not being forced by anyone, but himself, for he is the one who chooses not to reveal his secret to the town. Dimmesdalehas a concealed sin that is, eating at him. He just doesn’t have the courage to admit his wrongs. He seems to be a coward during these seven years of living with guilt. There is a scene in chapter 3 where Rev. Dimmesdale states, “Hester Prynne…If thou feelest it to be for thy soul’s peace, and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow –sinner and fellow-sufferer! Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for,
believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life? What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him-yea compe...
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...horne would not have stated this quote about him, “Be true ! Be true ! Be true ! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred.” ( 242 ) When Hawthorne made this quote in reference to Rev. Dimmesdale, he meant many things. He said that he should “be true” and “…show freely to the world” because Dimmesdale should have showed his true feelings about Hester, and his feelings that he kept hidden for 7 years about the adultery then, he would have much more relief. When the quote says “…if not your worst…whereby the worst may be inferred,” Hawthorne is saying that if you cannot at least get out the worst trait that you have been indicted of, you should try to get a point across that would aid in the finding of that worst trait. By this quote, Hawthorne thought that if Dimmesdale had only confessed earlier then he would have saved himself from all the torment he had put himself through. In addition, Hawthorne meant that the town, itself, would still have scoffed but wouldn’t have remembered the sin of adultery as much now, as back then when Hester got accused as well. So, Hawthorne would not have stated that quote if he did not believe that.
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