In Nathanial Hawthorne’s famous standard of American literature, The Scarlett Letter, Hawthorne examines individual cases of sin occurring within society known for its intolerance of sin and strict religious principles, the Puritans. In The Scarlet Letter , each of the main characters, whether protagonist or antagonist, are guilty of a sin or form of “evil”. However, one character stands out from the rest. This character is guilty of the worst form of malice and evil in the entire book. His name is Roger Chillingworth. By reviewing his sinful actions, motivations and personality, as well as the different symbols Hawthorne creates to represent him, the true extent of Chillingworth’s evil becomes apparent. Even though all four characters are considered to be guilty of sin Chillingworth’s actions are different. Dimmesdale and Hester are guilty of adultery and Pearl is considered evil because she was born from an impure relationship.
Chillingworth’s sin is his continuous and intentional torture of Dimmesdale “ the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, was haunted either by satan himself, or satan’s emissary, in the guise of old Roger Chillingworth.”(page86). His sin is more maleficent than the others for a variety of reasons. His sin is on going and persistent as opposed to a single action. Hawthorne gives credit to this particular style of sin by nicknaming Chillingworth, “the Leech”. This name states that, like a leech, Chillingworth will stick to Dimmesdale, slowly and subtly sucking the life from him by pressuring for a confession. Like a leech, Chillingworth is dependent on Dimmesdale’s suffering “Necessity seized the old man within its gripe, and never set him free again, until he had done all its bidding” (page86). A leech feeds on the blood of the host as Chillingworth feeds on the pain and suffering of Dimmesdale. This approach to “evil” clearly hints at the nature of Chillingsworth’s personality. Evil cannot merely be measured by actions. The true manifestation of evil is within the character that motivates the action.
Chillingworth is an evil character as evidenced by his motivation to destroy Dimmesdale. This motivation drove his evil deeds. The other characters, while having made bad decisions, were not motivated by destruction, but rather lust, perhaps even love. The intent of Dimmsdale and Hester’s relationship and behavior was not to intentionally harm anyone. Conversely, Chillingworth is evil at heart. Chillingsworth’s sin is revenge and he it is whole intention inflict the most damage possible upon Dimmesdale. The fact that Hollingsworth’s goal is to cause others pain shows that he is evil. Another example of Chillingworth’s true nature can be found in chapter 14 “in a word, old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of man’s faculty of transforming himself into the devil”(page 110). Chillingworth explains to Hester that his evil nature will not allow him to stop harming Dimmesdale.
Perfect in his role as “The Leech”, Chillingworth is not only fueled by Dimmesdale’s suffering, but it is necessary for him to survive. Chillingworth’s character cannot exist without causing others pain. Chillingsworth’s sadistic nature and the severe extent to which it controls and directs his life is a clear sign that Chillingworth is an evil person In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne makes use of an abundance of symbols and correlating themes to reinforce and communicate his message. Chillingworth has his own symbols and can be connected to others as well. Chillingsworth’s name and physical description both have symbolic meaning. This character’s name starts with the word “chill” or “chilly”. This easily applies to Chillingworth’s lack of human compassion or warmth. He is “cold-hearted” as is the nature of the sin he committed. Physically, Chillingworth is described as being partially disfigured with a hump in his back and twisted mutilated shoulders “A writhing horror twisted itself across his features, like a snake gliding swiftly over them.”(page 45). these attributes related to his twisted personality and the corruption of his mind and soul.
A significant symbol in the novel for Chillingworth is that of the devil. The Puritan’s believe that wilderness was evil and it was the place of the devil’s work. When Chillingworth first arrives in the Puritan town, he was studying natural remedies with the Native Americans in the woods. In addition, Pearl, who is highly intuitive, asks Hester at a point in the novel if Chillingworth is the “Black Man”, The “Black Man” referrers directly to the devil. These symbols reinforce that Chillingworth is evil by nature and of evil origins. While other characters are depicted as more human in their failed decision making and motivations, the symbolic representation of Chillingworth is all evil. Even Pearl, by her very name, is characterized as something lovely, pure and even “other worldly”.
It was Hawthorne’s intention to have Chillingworth be the representation of evil. In conclusion the character of Roger Chillingworth is indeed the representation of true evil as defined by his intentionally harmful sin, his sadistic personality, and the symbols that represent him. Yet Hawthorne’s purpose for having Chillingworth was not to simply have an evil character. The purpose of Chillingworth is to help make an example of Puritan society. Everything related to Chillingworth is evil, even to an almost exaggerated extent. And yet, within the context of the Puritan society and its rules, Chillingowrth is guilt free. The exaggeration helps emphasis the irony of this situation.
The Puritan mission was to eradicate sin in their community in order to create a perfect society. Yet while the perpetrator of the greatest sin, harasses Hester and Pearl while at the same time tormenting Dimmesdale, this very society remains blind to the purest evil within it. Indeed, the Puritans left the dearest religious leader in the care of the “black Man”. While the Puritans were focused on the outward appearance of decency, social order and moral standards, Hawthorne points out that in they may have become too focused on the rules and less aware of reality human nature and the value of a compassionate society.
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