The Cowardly Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

The Cowardly Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter:  The Cowardly and Weak Dimmesdale


In the book The Scarlet Letter, the character Reverend Dimmesdale, a very religious man, committed adultery, which was a sin in the Puritan community. Of course, this sin could not be committed alone. His partner was Hester Prynne. Hester was caught with the sinning only because she had a child named Pearl. Dimmesdale was broken down by Roger Chillinsworth, Hester Prynne’s real husband, and by his own self-guilt. Dimmesdale would later confess his sin and die on the scaffold. Dimmesdale was well known by the community and was looked up to by many religious people. But underneath his religious mask he is actually the worst sinner of them all. His sin was one of the greatest sins in a Puritan community. The sin would eat him alive from the inside out causing him to become weaker and weaker, until he could not stand it anymore. In a last show of strength he announces his sin to the world, but dies soon afterwards. In the beginning Dimmesdale is a weak, reserved man. Because of his sin his health regresses more and more as the book goes on, yet he tries to hide his sin beneath a religious mask. By the end of the book he comes forth and tells the truth, but because he had hidden the sin for so long he is unable to survive. Dimmesdale also adds suspense to the novel to keep the reader more interested in what Reverend Dimmesdale is hiding and his hidden secrets. Therefore Dimmesdale’s sin is the key focus of the book to keep the reader interested. Dimmesdale tries to cover up his sin by preaching to the town and becoming more committed to his preachings, but this only makes him feel guiltier. In the beginning of the story, Dimmesdale is described by these words; “His eloquence and religious fervor had already given earnest of high eminence in his profession.”(Hawthorne,44). This proves that the people of the town looked up to him because he acted very religious and he was the last person that anyone expected to sin. This is the reason that it was so hard for him to come out and tell the people the truth. Dimmesdale often tried to tell the people in a roundabout way when he said “…though he (Dimmesdale) 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.

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”(Hawthorne,65). Dimmesdale obviously is trying to tell her that he does not want to hide with this guilt and that he will feel it and have temptations later but also that he is going to go through life with the sin. Dimmesdale is obviously hiding behind his religious mask and is afraid to come out and tell his secret. This secret tears him apart and eventually is the cause of his death. Reverend Dimmesdale was torn apart by his sin. It made him do and think evil things. The sin even made him resort to flagellation in order to make the pain of the guilt go away. This self-prescribed torture eventually lead to Dimmesdale’s death on the scaffold where he did as he promised Pearl; holding her and her mother’s hands in front of the entire community. His torture included him pushing himself to become a better minister to help keep the guilt pushed back inside his head. He began working extremely hard hoping that his work would make the community think of him as an even more holy man. This, in turn made him feel even guiltier and that made him push himself even harder to try to hide his guilt. Dimmesdale even puts himself through self-beatings. Where once he was an attractive man, he was now considered a pale, weak, emaciated coward who could barely walk and would have great pains, in which he would grab his chest. His torture brought him to his death where he died upon the very scaffold that Hester, his fellow sinner, had stood to face her punishment. Dimmesdale, throughout the book, knows where he is and what he is doing. He is seen in the book as a reverend and to the reader as a man who is quite well-known in the community, but is obviously hiding something. This keeps the reader interested in the book: Dimmesdale’s regression and why he regresses to his deathly state. What he had done to get there keeps the reader interested and wondering why he is so depressed. By the time the reader knows that Dimmesdale was the partner in Hester’s sin, the reader keeps reading to know why he committed the sin and why he is in such great pain. Dimmesdale adds great suspense as to what he will do next in his ghastly state where he is almost tempted to say blasphemous things and even tell children about naughty words. He is a questionable character and this makes the reader want to know how he will end up at the end of the book. Dimmesdale begins the story as a handsome, religious figure in the community and slowly becomes more cowardly. He hides himself behind a mask of lies and cannot bring himself to come out from hiding. He tries a few times to get Hester to tell the town that he is the other sinner, but he cannot do it himself. His body and soul shrivel up and he eventually dies, but not before he does one act of courage and tells the entire town that he is the adulterer. Dimmesdale was the victim of his own cowardliness and also the victim of Chillingworth’s hatred and revenge. If he could have been brave enough to tell the truth, he may have been able to save himself and ended Hesters’ pain before it began. Dimmesdale is a cowardly, weak man and he becomes more so throughout the entire book. He doesn't go through any major changes, but the worst characteristics of his character become more prominent. This eventually causes him to die.
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