Richard Perle, a political advisor of the 1940s, once said, “Sometimes the things we… do seem objectionable in the eyes of others” (“Brainy Quote” 7). This is true of people and situations we encounter in our everyday lives, and all of us are most likely deemed objectionable more frequently than we realize. Our behaviors can appear undesirable, offensive, or scornful to others, while we may not conceive it ourselves. This is certainly true of the way readers perceive Dimmesdale’s actions to be in The Scarlet Letter, an acclaimed novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
The story is a romance involving characters that have been embroidered so intricately that their natures can be equated to the needlework created by Hester, a protagonist in the story. The complexity of the romance woven into the tale soon consumed the lives of all three of the main characters, to the point where both Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth, the two male characters in the plot, underwent drastic changes. Uncharacteristically, the romance brought out the worst in the characters, allowing the reader to question which of these two men can be considered to have the least admirable of qualities.
Arthur Dimmesdale, because of his lack of moral fiber, his inability to living up to the values of both the Puritan and Christian beliefs of his ministry, his cowardice, and his hypocrisy, is by far the most objectionable character of the two. Unable to control his lustful impulses, Arthur Dimmesdale committed adultery with Hester, and sired their illegitimate child, Pearl. Dimmesdale’s immorality defied all that he preached as a minister, as well as the commandments of his Christian faith. Dimmesdale made an extremely poor decision.
To make matters worse, while Hester continued to be publicly scorned for her sin of adultery, Dimmesdale’s chose to conceal his part in this sin from the public. He left the entire burden of this sin on Hester’s slim shoulders. Because of his unwillingness to confess sleeping with another man’s wife, Dimmesdale lived a life of guilt and adopted vigils involving self-harm; “In Mr. Dimmesdale’s secret closet, under lock and key, there was a bloody scourge. Often times [he] had plied it on his own shoulders… it was his custom, too, as it has been that of many other pious Puritans, to fast” (Hawthorne 289-291).
He both fasted and whipped himself, emulating devout Catholics. Dimmesdale failed to open himself to help and choose other forms of repentance, making his choices additional bad stitches in the tapestry of his life. Dimmesdale’s failure to realize that his poor decisions were leading him into a downward spiral and that there were ways to dig himself out of his grave, confirm in the reader his disreputable character. As mentioned before, Dimmesdale’s sin of adultery was kept quiet, as he never publicly confessed his actions, nor took responsibility for them.
As the minister of the Boston, he was revered and admired by the entire town. ““The godly youth! ” said they among themselves. “The saint on earth! ””(289), did the congregation exclaim regularly. It is because of this acclaim and Dimmesdale wish to keep his high place in the social hierarchy that he refrained from publicly revealing his true character. The narration comments on Dimmesdale’s practices saying, “And he himself, in so far as he shows himself in a false light… the only truth that continued to give Mr.
Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth was the anguish in his inmost soul,” (293). The only truth was his anguish. The minister continued to struggle with himself, and after one night of his dangerous vigils, staggered to the scaffold on which Hester had stood years earlier, in an attempt at confession. Pearl and Hester, coming back from an errand, joined him and Pearl asked if he would stand with her and her mother at noontide. Dimmesdale’s reply disappointed her as he said, ““Nay; not so, my little pearl!
”… for, with the new energy of the moment, all the dread of public exposure, that had so long been the anguish of his life, had returned upon him… “Not so… I shall, indeed, stand with thy mother and thee one other day, but not to-morrow” (307). In this instance, Dimmesdale disregarded his wishes to liberate his soul and once again refused to own his sin. For some time, Dimmesdale was patient and carried on with his life, but his patience slowly metamorphosed into cowardice, a despicable trait in a man.
Further supporting the argument that Dimmesdale was a hypocrite, is the fact that he preached prodigious sermons on the topic of morality and confession, but was unable to live up to their messages. Roger Chillingworth stated this to Hester, “his spirit lacks the strength that could have borne up, as thine has, beneath a burden like thy scarlet letter” (343). Dimmesdale could preach the consequences of sin, but could neither keep himself from sinning nor own up to his sin.
When Hester was put onto the scaffold, Dimmesdale spoke to her directly, as he was directed to do by the magistrates, in an effort to force her to speak of her sinner, and said, “Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him… 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… Thy silence … compel him… to add hypocrisy to sin? ” (133). Dimmesdale argued that if her lover were to step down from his high status onto the scaffold beside Hester, it would be better than for him to hide his sin for eternity.
Yet, Dimmesdale, the sinner, did not do this. Lastly, Dimmesdale stated when meeting with Hester, “I should long ago have thrown off these garments of mock holiness, and have shown myself to mankind as they will see me at the judgment-seat. Happy are you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret! ” (383-385) and ultimately expressed to her his jealousy towards her. He envied how public her sin was and stated that he was in agony because his scarlet letter burned in secret.
Yet, he, coward and hypocrite that he was, refused to state his sin to the entirety of Boston. Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale cannot have his cake and eat it too. His impotence was contemptible. As a minister and leader of the town, he should have been able to remain strong and reinvent himself. Some readers may argue that Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s husband, was the more abominable of the two, claiming that he wed Hester knowing she did not love him and that he did not love her, tormented both Hester and Dimmesdale, and turned into a devil.
In order to fully understand and empathize with Chillingworth, the reader must consider things from his point of view, climb into his skin and walk around in it. It was common in Puritan times for couples to wed for money and security rather than for love. Many of these loveless marriages were successful. In addition, Chillingworth’s “torments” towards Hester and Dimmesdale were out of passion towards his wife. He, like any other man, felt it necessary to remain close to his wife, regardless of the lack of love felt between them.
Yes, Chillingworth did turn into a bit of a devil in the end, lusting after vengeance towards Dimmesdale. But Dimmesdale turned into a floppy, soggy, mush of fabric, unable to support himself. Chillingworth was still able to support himself, and properly chase after and acquire his goal. Dimmesdale was not. In summation, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale was an objectionable character not only because of his cowardice, but because of his hypocrisy, lack of moral fiber, and poor choices.
Ambrose Bierce, a journalist in the 1940s caveats to his readers, saying “note the particulars in which one person or thing is, if possible, more objectionable than another. ” (“Think Exist”, 9). And as readers of The Scarlet Letter, we do just that; the audience realizes the altogether disgraceful character of Dimmesdale, a man whose life came apart at the seams because of love, but who, because of his poor choices, was unable to stitch his muddled tapestry back together. In many ways, The Scarlet Letter is actually Dimmesdale’s story, as the central struggle is his.
The other characters employ nearly fixed positions while the minister must – in one sensational decision – dismantle his actions of seven years’ time. And it is that reversal that marks his defeat over himself and marks the apex of the novel. Works Cited Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter: A Kaplan SAT Score-raising Classic. New York: Kaplan Pub. , 2006. Print. “Objectionable Quotes and Quotations. ” Think Exist. N. p. , n. d. Web. 22 Oct. 2013. “Objectionable Quotes. ” BrainyQuote. Xplore, n. d. Web. 22 Oct. 2013.
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