The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter

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Revenge consumes the soul of the beholder, and leaves him a shell of his former self. Revenge often leads the avenger down an irreversible path that ultimately proves to be detrimental to him. Such acts are especially grave in the view of Puritans, who believed that vengeance belonged only to God. Nathaniel Hawthorne was a master of words, a literary genius who had a deep understanding of human emotions and boundaries. Hawthorne uses The Scarlet Letter to reprimand revenge as a detrimental act that can radically alter a person, and yet never allow them to be satisfied, using Chillingworth’s own thoughts, and dialogues to characterize his transformation from a scholarly person to a devil whose sole purpose was to torment Dimmesdale as retribution for committing adultery with Hester.
In his exposition, Chillingworth, a learned man justly demanded that his wife’s fellow sinner “will be known! – he will be known! – he will be known!” (61). This was no doubt a perfectly normal response for a man, who after being in the company of Native Americans for over three years, happen to come to the right place at the right moment to see his wife on the scaffold, humiliated by the overbearing sin of adultery. In his conversation with Hester in jail, Chillingworth made it clear that he did not intend to harm neither Hester nor Pearl. Instead, like a true man, he claims that because of “[his] folly, and [her] weakness” (71), she had to “ascend to the pedestal of infamy” (71). He contended that had he been a more caring husband, and not devoted his youth to books and the pursuit of wisdom, such an incident would had never occurred. In the ensuing exchange of dialogue, Hawthorne impressed upon the reader that Chillingworth was a just and noble man, admitting partial responsibility for Hester’s sin. The medicine he gave Pearl was “potent for good; and were it [his] child – yea, [his] own, as well as thine! – [he] could do no better for it” (69) demonstrated his courteous manner, since if he was evil, he would not have given any second thought to killing the bastard child. His intentions of extracting revenge on the man “who has wronged [them] both” (72) was clear, and indicated his desire to reclaim the honor of a cuckold. These dialogues marked the beginning of Chillingworth’s descent to infamy.
After he had settled in town for three years as the resident physician, Chillingworth had no doubt been vigilant in his search for Pearl’s father.

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He used his highly valued skills as a doctor as a pretense in getting to personally know most of the townspeople. He had been particularly wary of the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, whom the townspeople had asked him to look after. As they became more and more attached, Chillingworth began to “dig a little further in the direction of this vein!” (126), hoping to discover the reason behind Dimmesdale’s ailing illness. At this point, he still had the chance to revert from his inevitable demise, but when he uncovered the Reverend’s chest, what he saw comported Satan “himself when a precious human soul is lost to heaven and won into his kingdom” (135). It is here that Chillingworth reached the final stage of his transformation. His desire for revenge had all but consumed his soul.
Made in his resolve to torment Dimmesdale for every second of his life, Chillingworth’s speech took a new sense of urgency and exasperation. He asserted to Hester “[his] finger, pointed at [Dimmesdale], would have hurled him from his pulpit into a dungeon – thence, peradventure, to the gallows” (167). However, he did not do that because by now, Chillingworth saw that a fitting punishment for him was not death, but an environment of “frightful dreams, and desperate thoughts, the sting of remorse, and despair of pardon, as a foretaste of what awaits him beyond the grave” (168). This was evidence that Chillingworth, “a mortal man, with once a human heart, has become a fiend” (168). Yet, even with seven years of mental torture, Chillingworth still had not forgiven Dimmesdale. Instead, he proclaimed, “he has but increased the debt” (169). Driven by his obsession to extract revenge on Dimmesdale, Chillingworth lost his scholarly, rational mind. Thus when Dimmesdale finally revealed his secret on the platform and fell to the ground, Chillingworth’s “strength and energy – all his vital and intellectual force – seemed at once to desert him” (254). As a man whose sole purpose thereof was to extract revenge, when death moved one-step ahead of him, he had no more purpose in life, and thus too died within the year.
As shown by Chillingworth’s transformation from a leaned man to a vengeful demon, Hawthorn demonstrates that revenge is not only detrimental, but also fuels an insatiable desire to punish the wrongdoer. Hawthorn thus condemns people from extracting revenge, and suggests, in accordance with Puritan belief, that retribution is best left to God.

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