The Scarlet Letter Book notes preface: Custom House

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The Scarlet Letter Book notes

PREFACE: Custom House

In the "Custom House," written as an introduction to The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne gives an autobiographical description of his life and times. The detailed descriptions of the scenes and people not only prepare the reader for the author's style, but also aim at recreating the author's past. The preface concentrates on the author's period of service at the Custom House during which time he came into contact with several people and had the opportunity to study human behavior. The description of his co- employees and others shows the author's deft hand at characterization, which is revealed during the novel. Further, the preface serves the purpose of giving a background to the novel and introduces America's Puritanical ancestors. Through the novel, by taking a favorable view of Hester and Dimmesdale and by drawing Chillingworth in evil proportions, Hawthorne attempts to undo the wrong and injustice done by his ancestors. The reference to the discovery of the scarlet letter and some papers referring to the incident of a woman condemned like Hester is to strengthen the author's claim of the authenticity of the story.

CHAPTER 1: The Prison Door


The first chapter gives a description of the dark and gloomy nature of the prison that was established in the "vicinity of Cornhill" by the early settlers. The prison is described as an "ugly edifice" and "black flower of civilized society". Weeds grow in front of the gloomy structure, where a group of Puritans, dressed normally in their dull clothing, has gathered. The only positive image in the whole setting is a single rosebush that stands beside the weeds. It foreshadows that there will be some brightness amidst this "tale of human frailty and sorrow."

The purpose of this opening chapter is to set the scene for the novel in seventeenth century Boston. A crowd of Puritans has gathered at the prison and as always, they wear "sad-colored" clothing. The description of the dark and gloomy prison sets the mood for the entire story and foreshadows the situations of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. She is outwardly "imprisoned" for her sin through her alienation and isolation; he is inwardly "imprisoned" by his mental anguish and deterioration. Hawthorne obviously chooses to begin his novel with a prison, an appropriate symbol for the punishment that the protagonists will suffer.

In the midst of the dark description of the prison, there is a single rose bush. It is said to spring from the footsteps of Anne Hutchinson, an actual Puritan woman who questioned the strictness of her religion and was later judged by some as a martyr for it. The rose, in its brightness and beauty, is an obvious symbol for Hester Prynne, who has similarities to Anne Hutchinson. In spite of the darkness of her situation in the novel, Hester lives in truth, pride, goodness, and honor, openly confessing her sin. She becomes like a "martyr", suffering in silence and refusing to reveal the identity of her partner.

The closing lines of the chapter briefly state that the narrative is a story of human weakness (the passion between Hester and Dimmesdale) and the resulting sorrows for their actions.

CHAPTER 2: The Market-Place


A number of people gathered in front of the prison door are eagerly waiting for the appearance of Hester Prynne. Through the gossip of some of the women, the reader learns about Hester, to whom they refer as a "hussy". She has committed the sin of adultery and has been punished to a sentence of wearing the letter "A" on her dress as a symbol of her sin. It is also through their discussion that Reverend Master Dimmesdale, the pastor of Hester's church, is introduced.

As the prison door is thrown open, Hester is led out by a prison official. She is described as a tall, young, proud, and beautiful woman with good features. As she steps out of the prison clutching her three-month-old baby to her, she appears dignified and protective of her daughter. What attracts the attention of the crowd is the letter "A", now elaborately embroidered in gold thread and attached to her dress. Hester has obviously steeled herself for this public encounter, for the condemnation and humiliation do not seem to have any affect on her.

(First Scaffold Scene) From the prison, Hester is led through the unsympathetic crowd to the market place. There, she is placed on a scaffold in order to disgrace her and to reveal the letter "A" on her dress. The Governor, his counselors, a judge, a general, and the ministers are amongst the assembled crowd, which has turned "somber and grave". Hester strengthens herself to bear her disgrace.

As Hester remains on the platform under full and contemptuous public gaze, her mind turns to her childhood, to her life with her parents, and to her life with her husband (who is only physically described as a misshapen scholar without any reference to his name or current status with Hester). As the "exhibition of these phantasmagoric forms" flit before her mind's eye, Hester brings herself back to the reality of her child and her shame.


As the chapter unfolds, further details are presented about the Puritanical outlook. The crowd who condemns Hester is harsh, stern, and cruel. The "goodwives" feel that she should be more seriously punished. A lone voice speaks in support of Hester's painful suffering. Hawthorne is obviously critical of the crowd. The author, however, depicts Hester in sympathetic terms. She is proud, beautiful, and in control - a picture of "Madonna and Child" as she stands clutching her daughter. She seems to have "made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped." Hawthorne also gives additional details of her physical appearance and her background, and hints at her strength and defiance, having embroidered the Letter "A" in gold thread, as if to turn something ugly into something beautiful and as if to call attention to her shame.

It is important to note that the pious pastor Dimmesdale is present at the scaffold scene and displays great grief for his parishioner. The deformed Chillingworth also watches the events.
CHAPTER 3: The Recognition


From the scaffold, Hester spies a small deformed man in the crowd and obviously recognizes him. The man also recognizes her and is horrified at the scene. When the man inquires about Hester, he is told that about two years ago she arrived in Boston from Europe without her scholarly husband, who was to join her later. She has not heard from him in the interim, a fact that probably helped her cause and lightened her sentence. Her punishment is a period of imprisonment, a public display on the scaffold for three hours, and the necessity of wearing the Scarlet Letter for the rest of her life, "a living sermon against sin." After telling how he has been held captive by Indians, the deformed man comments that "the partner of her iniquity should...stand on the scaffold by her side." He then exclaims several times, "He will be known!" It is not until later in the book that the reader realizes that this misshapened man is Roger Chillingworth, Hester's husband.

Bellingham, the Governor of Boston, and Rev. John Wilson, the oldest minister, are also in the crowd. The senior churchman asks Rev. Dimmesdale, Hester's minister, to try and convince her to confess the name of her partner in sin, which she adamantly refuses to do. Rev. Wilson then preaches a long sermon about sin during which Hester tries to quiet the screams of her baby. Afterwards, she is led back to prison.


In this chapter, the other two main characters of the novel make their appearance. Both Chillingworth (Hester's husband, Roger Prynne, who has chosen this new name for himself) and Arthur Dimmesdale (Hester's lover) are in the crowd, but neither are identified in their relationship to her. The chapter also begins to build tension and suspense. It is obvious that Hester knows the deformed man in the crowd, and she seems bothered to see him there. He also recognizes her and signals that he wants his identity to be kept secret, a fact that reflects his crooked, scheming mentality. This little man also foreshadows the main plot of the story when he states that the father of the baby will be known!

In contrast to this deformed man who seems angered by Hester's presence on the scaffold, the reader is introduced to Hester's minister, the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale, who is truly grieved over Hester's shame. At the encouragement of a senior minister, Dimmesdale appeals to Hester to reveal the identity of her partner. To his unstated relief, the proud and stubborn Hester refuses to answer him. The rich irony of this scene between minister and parishioner is later realized when the reader knows that Dimmesdale is the father

of Pearl and a coward who is afraid to admit his sin. It is one of the most masterful speeches in the entire novel.


CHAPTER 4: The Interview


For the first time, Chillingworth is introduced by name when he is brought as a physician to treat Hester in her prison cell for her nervous agitation. His relationship to her as a husband is also presented.

When the chapter opens, Hester's traumatic nervousness is apparent, and a contrast is drawn between her public maintenance of dignity, as revealed in the previous chapter, and her painful suffering in private.

Hester's "turmoil" and her "anguish and despair" also negatively affect the infant Pearl, who is in painful misery. Chillingworth medicates the infant, and she grows quiet and falls asleep. He then examines Hester and administers her a sedative. Hester does not fully trust her husband and wonders if his intentions are more to kill them than to cure.

After mother and child have grown calmer, Chillingworth settles down to "interview" Hester to learn the identity of Pearl's father. When Hester refuses to disclose the information to him, Chillingworth vows he will discover the man who has violated his wife; he clearly wants vengeance. Further, he makes Hester promise not to reveal his true identity or relationship to her. She does not feel good about the promise and says her silence about Chillingworth may cause the ruin of her soul. Chillingworth warns that if she breaks the promise, he will inflict harm on Pearl's father.

Both Chillingworth and Hester confess that they have wronged one another. He says his greatest fault was ignoring his age and deformity and marrying a much younger woman. That this has been a loveless marriage is obvious to the reader.


This dramatic chapter has Hester and Chillingworth confronting one another. The reader learns about the relationship between the couple through their own conversation. It is very revealing. The mental trauma that Hester endures in private is presented at the beginning of the chapter. In turn, her suffering affects her baby. Both are in need of a doctor. Ironically, the physician that is summoned is none other than Roger Chillingworth, Hester's husband that has deserted her. He is also the man that Hester spied in the crowd on the day of her public humiliation.

Hester's lack of trust in Chillingworth is apparent in her doubts regarding his medicines and motives. She, however, has nothing to fear. Chillingworth seeks no revenge against his wife; his anger is all saved for Hester's lover. When Hester refuses to reveal the identity of Pearl's father, Chillingworth vows to find out on his own. As the novel progresses, Chillingworth becomes obsessed with finding and destroying the unknown man. Because he is created in such a vengeful light, the reader does not sympathize with Chillingworth. It is true that his wife has betrayed him and given birth to an illegitimate child, but Hardy presents Chillingworth in such a negative way that the reader cannot identify with him as a sensitive and intelligent scholar.

Chillingworth is planning on staying in Boston. He tells Hester that she is never to reveal his relationship to her. Although uncomfortable about it, Hester promises to remain silent about Chillingworth.

CHAPTER 5: Hester At Her Needle


After her release from confinement in prison, Hester is free to go anywhere she chooses, but she decides to remain near Boston. She begins to lead a secluded life on the outskirts of town. She moves, with her daughter, into an abandoned cottage set on infertile land near the ocean. She rarely goes into town and avoids contact with the outside world; in her seclusion, "she stood apart --- like a ghost." The author suggests that Hester may have decided to remain near Boston so that the "scene of the guilt" remains "the scene of her earthly punishment," or perhaps she wants to be near Pearl's father.

Hester lives an austere existence, spending little money to survive. Ironically, she tries to give something out of her meager existence to charitable causes. Her ability to provide for Pearl and herself depends solely on the needle-work that she does for the rich as well as the poor. Although many wealthy people employ her to sew for important occasions, no one has asked her to work on a wedding gown, as if she might taint it. Hester's banishment from the world of humans, although she interacts with them for her livelihood, is an extension of her imprisonment. She is treated like an outcast and made to endure constant insults. She suffers daily when someone stares upon her scarlet letter, but she accepts the humiliation like a "martyr".

As Hester suffers, her lover remains free of public humiliation. His freedom makes her realize that other honorable people in town may have committed adultery without others knowing about it. She begins to feel that her scarlet letter "gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts". This loss of belief in others is, to Hawthorne, "the saddest results of sin".


This chapter presents Hester's alienation and her intense suffering, both self-inflicted and imposed by a society that shuns her. Her isolation is both physical and emotional. In her penitential mood and in her little tokens of philanthropy, Hester emerges as a saint-like figure. By comparing her to a "martyr", the author bestows upon Hester a place of honor in spite of her sin. He also creates a sympathetic attitude towards her on the part of the reader.

Even though her life is hard and miserable, Hester retains her sense of charity, making contributions to worthwhile causes. She also begins to understand the sin hidden among others who brand her a sinner though they are equally sinful. But Hester is compassionate and forgives them their hidden sins. She also forgives her lover for hiding his sin.

It is important to note the picture of strength that Hester presents in this chapter. Although she is free to leave the Boston area, she chooses to remain and face her accusers. She finds a small thatched cottage and fixes it up for Pearl and herself. In order to earn a living, she does sewing for other people, whom she must shamefully face; she works hard and her products are finely crafted and in demand. She also sews for little Pearl, always dressing her in bright and colorful clothing, as if to attract attention to her child and to state there is no reason for shame. She herself dresses in dark colored clothing made out of the plainest and roughest cloth. It is another example of self- deprivation; but she does not want to attract attention to herself or her letter "A".

It is also important to note that several months have passed. As a result, Hawthorne uses this chapter to summarize what has been going on. He does not go into great detail about this period of Hester's life; neither does he use dialogue between the characters to advance the plot as he did in the last chapter.

CHAPTER 6: Pearl


A lengthy description is given of Hester's daughter, who is named for the first time. Pearl's name was chosen by her mother, for she was "purchased with all she had, her mother's only treasure". In this chapter, she is three years old. She is a lively and beautiful child that Hester dresses in lovely, hand- sewn clothes of bright colors that match her fanciful nature. In spite of her radiant being, the child lives in seclusion with her mother, as an outcast. The presence of Pearl, instead of providing comfort to Hester, is a constant source of worry.

Pearl's impishness, her waywardness, her stubborn nature, and her refusal to observe rules fill Hester with a sense of dread. She feels it is her sin that has affected Pearl's birth and upbringing, and she has a deep sense of grief about it. Hester's attempts at controlling the child fail frequently and she is often reduced to tears that also fail to bring sympathy from the child.

Pearl's solitude is reflected in two ways. She avoids all contact with other children, never mingling with or talking to them. At times, Pearl even attacks them. Normally, however, Pearl spends her time playing by herself and often imagines she is fighting enemies.

Pearl's attraction to her mother's scarlet letter is also described. The child is fascinated with it, often touching it or tossing flowers at it. She is also curious about her birth, often questioning Hester about it and her lack of a father. Because of her behavior, Hester increasingly begins to question Pearl's inner nature and her doubts are further strengthened when Pearl denies God.


This chapter provides a description of Pearl and fills in details of the time span which the author skips. The innocent beauty and charm of Pearl are in sharp contrast to her rebellious nature. The significance of Pearl in Hester's life is indicated in the name chosen for her by Hester. She is a jewel, Hester's only treasure, purchased with her own honor. Unfortunately, Hester finds little solace in her daughter, whose stubborn ways increase her mother's sorrow.

Pearl, like her mother, is treated like an outcast. As a result, she has been deprived of a normal childhood in the company of other children. She does not know how to interact with them and is often aggressive when they come near. She prefers to play alone, fighting all kinds of imagined enemies. Pearl's rejection of humanity fills Hester with a sense of guilt and dread.

When Pearl becomes aware of her mother's scarlet letter, not understanding its meaning or impact, she plays with it. At such times, Hester cringes with shame. Hester is also tormented by and at a loss to answer the child's questions about her birth and parentage. It is not surprising that Hester sees Pearl as a constant reminder of her sin, a living form of her scarlet letter; yet she loves her deeply and dearly, for she is her only companion and the treasure of her life. It is also not surprising that the child, deprived of a father and childhood companionship, questions the existence of a heavenly father.

The author clearly brings out the fact that both society and God have marked Hester for her sin. "Man has marked this woman's sin by a scarlet letter, which had such potent and disastrous efficacy that no human sympathy could reach her. . .God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished, had given her a lovely child." Ironically, the lovely child causes Hester more torture than joy.

CHAPTER 7: The Governor's Hall


Hester Prynne's visit to the Governor's house is presented here. Hester is going there with the dual purpose of delivering a pair of gloves she has sewed for him and imploring him to stall the transfer of Pearl to a guardian. Hester has heard that some important townspeople, including Governor Bellingham, are recommending that Pearl be placed under the guardianship of some worthy person who is able to lead the child to salvation. Hester is incredulous that they could be thinking of taking her child, her only treasure, away from her. Out of love and concern for Pearl, Hester is determined to plead her case.

Hester dresses Pearl in a crimson dress adorned with gold thread for the trip to the Governor's house. The child is a visual, living symbol of the scarlet letter of Hester's dress. Hester's red "A" and Pearl's radiance attract attention, and mother and child are both ridiculed along the way. Upon their arrival, Pearl is fascinated by the size and elaborateness of the Governor's house, for she is unaccustomed to seeing anything outside her small thatched cottage. Inside, the child notices the many objects-de-art. She is particularly fascinated with a suit of armor whose polished metal reflects an enlargement of everything, including Hester's scarlet letter and Pearl's impish smile.

Hester is told that the Governor cannot see her, for he is meeting with two ministers and a doctor; but Hester chooses to wait. It is not easy to control Pearl, who wants to have a red rose from the garden and who screams in protest when she is denied. Soon Hester notices the governor emerging from the garden with some gentlemen.


This chapter serves as a quiet pause before the emotional interchange of the next chapter. It also reveals Hester's deep love for her child. When she learns that there is discussion of taking Pearl away from her, Hester is horrified. Even though it will not be easy for her to go into town and approach the Governor about the issue, she is determined to save her child at any cost to herself. The ordeal of Hester walking through the streets with Pearl is presented. When a group of children mock them, Pearl hits back. Her bold pursuit of her tormentors shows her strength. At the same time, Hester's defiance and her acceptance of her punishment is boldly portrayed as she dresses Pearl in a red dress, almost a living scarlet letter and symbol of Hester's sin.

Hawthorne's detailed description of the Governor's house with its many adornments is very realistic. He tries to picture the house as a model Puritan dwelling, listing details of its architecture and design

. CHAPTER 8: The Elf - Child and The Minister


As Governor Bellingham emerges from the garden, accompanied by Reverend John Wilson, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth, the men first notice Pearl and her crimson dress. Because of her flamboyant appearance, they wonder if she is a Christian child or a supernatural being.

On noticing Hester and realizing that Pearl is her child, the Governor informs her that the men have been discussing the propriety of placing Pearl under the guardianship of some responsible person so that Pearl will be "clad soberly and disciplined strictly." Hester argues that she is best suited to teach and care for Pearl.

Reverend John Wilson is asked by the Governor to examine the three-year-old child's religious knowledge. Pearl refuses to cooperate and acts as if she knows nothing, even though Hester has taught the three year old child much religious information. Both Wilson and the Governor are horrified to learn that Pearl does not attribute her birth to Christ. Instead, she replies that she has been plucked off the rose bush near the prison. At these utterances, the governor considers the matter settled; he strongly believes that a child who can not suitably answer 'who made her' does not deserve to remain with her mother.

Hester grows agitated and declares that she will never allow Pearl to be separated from her. She appeals to her own minister, Rev. Dimmesdale, to intervene on her behalf. Dimmesdale appears shaken by the interchange. He is pale and holds his heart; but he successfully pleads Hester's case, saying that God has given the child to Hester as a blessing and as a reminder of her sin. Chillingworth comments on the minister's earnestness in the matter and again raises questions about Pearl's father. Hester feels great relief to know that Pearl will stay with her, and Rev. Dimmesdale gives the child a kiss on the head.

With the matter amicably resolved, Hester leaves the mansion with Pearl. On her way out, Mistress Hibbins, another historical figure who was executed as a witch in 1656, approaches Hester and invites her to join in some witch merriment in the forest. Hester refuses her and turns for home.


This chapter brings all of the major characters of the novel together in close contact for the first time. The chapter is also filled with exceptional irony. As Hester and Pearl wait in the hallway of the Governor's mansion, the Governor, Rev. Wilson, Rev. Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth (who has become the personal physician of Dimmesdale, who is suffering from nervous agitation and a weak physical condition) are discussing whether or not Pearl should be allowed to remain with her mother. When they emerge from their discussion, they encounter Pearl. The child's scarlet dress, so carefully sewn and adorned by Hester, causes concern to the Governor and the ministers, who consider it improper and unchristian for Pearl to be elaborately dressed in bright colors. The Governor is so bothered by the child's appearance that he has Rev. Wilson quiz the child on her religious knowledge.

Because of her guilt, Hester has taken particular care to teach Pearl

right from wrong, forgiveness of sins, and other religious beliefs. Ironically, when Rev. Wilson quizzes Pearl, she reacts in her typically impish manner and pretends to know nothing. When asked "Who made thee," Pearl responds that she was plucked off the rosebush that grew by the prison door. Based upon the response from this three year old child, Governor Bellinghem immediately decides that Pearl should be taken away from Hester and placed with a guardian who will properly raise the child.

Hester's hysterical outburst when she is told that Pearl will be taken away from her indicates the depth of her love for her only child. In her desperation, Hester appeals to Dimmesdale for help. He appeals to the Governor for Hester's sake and says that Pearl has been sent by God as a blessing and a retribution for her sin; therefore, the child should remain with her mother. As Dimmesdale makes his appeal, he is pale and holds his heart. The irony of the interaction is obvious, and Chillingworth does not miss it. He comments that Dimmesdale appears overly earnest in his appeal.

It is also ironic that Chillingworth, Hester's husband, has become the personal physician of Dimmesdale, who suffers from nervous agitation and a weak physical condition. The doctor acts like a friend to the minister while trying to gain a confession from him. It is also ironic that as Hester grows strong due to her having to openly face her sin and wear the scarlet letter, Dimmesdale has grown weak and sickly from his hidden guilt. At the same time, Chillingworth has grown more ugly and misshapen from due to his overpowering desire for revenge.

This chapter is extremely important from the point of view that Hawthorne gathers all the major characters of the novel together here for a very important cause, the fate of Pearl. The author also has representatives from all walks of life in this dramatic chapter. The Governor represents the State; Wilson and Dimmesdale represent the Church; Hester represents mankind, in its fallen and sinful state; and Mistress Hibbins, the witch, represents the dark side of life. Hawthorne also foreshadows the truth about Dimmesdale, a truth that Chillingworth already strongly suspects.

CHAPTER 9: The Leech


This chapter depicts the growing familiarity between Roger Chillingworth, the physician, and the ailing Arthur Dimmesdale. The townspeople feel that Providence has brought Chillingworth to Boston to care for their young minister, whose health is failing. Dimmesdale protests Chillingworth's concern for him and says he does not need a doctor; the church elders disagree and give Chillingworth permission to treat Dimmesdale. The two men begin spending much time together and finally set up residence in the same house.

Chillingworth's growing interest in learning the truth about Dimmesdale's ill-health is pointed out in detail. He applies all the resources at his disposal to learn more about the young pastor. The harder he works at uncovering the details of Dimmesdale's life, the uglier and more evil he appears. Before long the townspeople notice the change in Chillingworth's face and begin to have suspicions about him. Some think that he practices the black art of magic, and others think he is Satan's emissary sent to torture Dimmesdale. No matter who he is, Chillingworth is obviously not helping the young minister, who seems to grow sicker and gloomier with each passing day.


Leech, the chapter title, is a Puritan word for physician, as well as a blood-sucking worm; both meanings aptly apply to Chillingworth. He is a medical doctor by profession, but he is also a man thirsty for revenge, who is striving to suck the life- blood from Dimmesdale like a parasite. The chapter shows how Chillingworth at first convinces the parishioners that he should care for the ailing health of their minister; then it shows how Chillingworth manages to convince Dimmesdale that they should live under the same roof so he can constantly care for him. The irony is that Dimmesdale does not need to have his body healed; it is his soul that is sick. His hidden and unconfessed sin is eating away at his being, making him suffer even more greatly than Hester, who has been forced to openly confess her sin.

It is not just Dimmesdale who goes through physical changes. As Chillingworth manipulates the young minister and seeks his revenge, his appearance also deteriorates; he grows more twisted and ugly. The evil of his soul is also reflected in his face to such a degree that the townspeople begin to think he must practice black magic or be a representative of Satan.

CHAPTER 10: The Leech And His Patient


As Roger Chillingworth spends more time with Dimmesdale, he becomes more obsessed with learning his patient's secrets. He is compared to a miner searching for gold and to a sexton digging a grave in search of some ornament. Dimmesdale notices his curiosity and begins to grow suspicious of Chillingworth.

During one conversation, Chillingworth mentions a person who died with an unconfessed and hidden secret in his heart. Dimmesdale suggests that the man might have desired to confess but failed to act.

He further adds that at times the guilty heart is compelled to hide secrets until the day of reckoning. Chillingworth points out that it is always better to confess sin while one is still alive. Dimmesdale agrees, but adds that some people fail to do so because of their reserved nature or because of a sense of despair; instead, they choose to live in "their own unutterable torment". As their conversation proceeds, their attention is ironically diverted by the sight of Pearl playing on the graves outside. Then they watch her decorate her mother's scarlet "A" with sticker burrs.

Chillingworth and Dimmesdale discuss Pearl's strange behavior. The child, upon hearing the men's voices, spies the two. She tells her mother that they must leave or "yonder old Black Man will catch you! He hat got hold of the minister already." Pearl's words are often wise and beyond her age.

Chillingworth tells Dimmesdale that his sickness is a strange and deeply rooted one. He suspects that the illness is spiritual

as well as physical. He asks Dimmesdale to bare his soul before him so that he can treat him fully. Dimmesdale, however, refuses and tells Chillingworth not to meddle in his private matters. He also tells the physician that only God can heal him, for his is a spiritual illness. Dimmesdale's outburst and rushing from the room convince Chillingworth that the minister has committed some serious sin, the guilt of which is tormenting him.

One day when Dimmesdale has fallen into a deep sleep in his chair, Chillingworth opens his shirt and looks at his chest. What he finds fills the doctor with satanic joy, and he dances in delight.


This chapter clearly presents Chillingworth as he tortures Dimmesdale; it also shows Dimmesdale's self-inflicted suffering over his silence. Chillingworth, the leech, refuses to leave Dimmesdale alone until he discovers the truth of his suffering. Through contrived dialogues, the doctor questions Dimmesdale about unconfessed sin. Dimmesdale tells him that there are reasons that people conceal their sins and suffer for them. He also states that confessed sin is always kinder to the sinner than unconfessed sin. Dimmesdale knows this well, for his suffering comes from inability to confess that he is the father of Pearl.

Chillingworth's keen sense of observation and intelligence is presented in the chapter. He notices 'animal instincts' in the priest and realizes that the outwardly pious Dimmesdale is not altogether sinless. He also judges that the minister's sickness is the result of some deep-rooted spiritual problem.

Throughout the novel, suspense is skillfully utilized by Hawthorne to heighten the interest of the reader in the story. For a long time he withholds the identity of Pearl's father. At the end of this chapter he also withholds what Chillingworth finds when he looks at Dimmesdale's chest.

CHAPTER 11: The Interior Of A Heart


Chillingworth, who is convinced he knows Dimmesdale's secret, becomes more malicious and starts tormenting the minister discreetly. Ignorant of the doctor's

background or motives, Dimmesdale simply begins to fear him as an evil man. Since he cannot understand the reason for his own "distrust and abhorrence" of Chillingworth, he attributes it to his own guilty conscience.

Dimmesdale yearns to confess his sin to his congregation, but he can never gather the courage to openly speak about it. Instead, through his sermons, he indirectly projects himself as a sinner. The congregation, however, believes he him to be a holy man incapable of committing sin. They interpret his discreet confessions as a sign of humility; therefore, their respect and reverence for their minister are increased. Dimmesdale now feels even more hypocritical, and his misery swells. In an effort to purge himself of his sins, Dimmesdale whips himself in private and fasts for long periods of time. He also keeps all- night vigils during which he sees frightening visions of demons, his parents, and Hester with Pearl painting the letter "A" at Dimmesdale's heart. During one such night of vigil, Dimmesdale carefully dresses and prepares to go out in his clerical robes.


The reason behind Dimmesdale's suffering is more fully revealed in this chapter, and the reader's attention is focused on his intense agony as he reels under his guilt and inability to confess his sin. Since he cannot state his sin openly, Dimmesdale inflicts physical punishment on himself. At the same time, Chillingworth is inflicting extreme mental torture. He is now fully convinced of the nature of Dimmesdale's sin, and his plan for revenge is put in operation. The result is that Dimmesdale grows weaker and weaker. His physical being is a reflection of his inner turmoil.

Dimmesdale's attempts to confess before his congregation by referring to himself as a "a viler companion of the vilest, the worst of sinners, an abomination, a thing of unimaginable iniquity." Ironically, such vague confessions only make the congregation judge him as humble and more holy. They heap more praise upon him, making the minister feel even more guilty and hypocritical.

Hawthorne's differing opinions of Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth become apparent here. He continually describes Hester with sympathy, even considering her a martyr and comparing her to the Virgin. He judges Dimmesdale much more harshly, calling him a "subtle but remorseful hypocrite."

He believes the minister's self-condemnation and self- acknowledged shame are the proper rewards for his unconfessed sin. Finally, Hawthorne judges Chillingworth the most harshly of all, "more wretched than his victim."

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