“Life is hard, but accepting that fact makes it easier.” this common phrase has
been proven true in many people’s lives, but is also a harsh fact that Boston’s Rev.
Dimmesdale, a key character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s the Scarlet Letter, had to face.
In this twisted story of deception and adultery set in the Puritan era, Hawthorne
introduces Dimmesdale as a weak and cowardly man who refuses to take responsibility
for his actions. Yet, he transitions to a person who accepts his sins and the
consequences, before it is too late, ultimately finding happiness.
At the beginning of the novel, Dimmesdale has established quite a reputation
for himself. In discussing individual members of the magistrate, the towns people
describe Dimmesdale as a “God fearing” gentleman, “but merciful overmuch (49)”.
Due to his actions, all of the people respect and look up to the Reverend.
Throughout the story, Dimmesdale desperately tries to confess, envying Hester, for
her courage, he says, “Happy are you Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly
upon your bosom! (188)” Even at the end of the novel, when finally attempting to
confess, people are compelled by his final sermon, raving that “never had a man
spoken in so wise, so high, and so holy a spirit, as he that spake this day (p.243)”.
Proving that he was a very loved and influential man in the small town.
In further developing Dimmesdale’s character, Hawthorne portrays him as a
hypocrite. His outward demeanor deceives the villagers, appearing as a completely
holy man. However, before the action of the novel begins, he stumbles into sin, by
committing adultery with Hester Pryne, an attractive young woman whose husband has
been long absent on a journey, and presumed dead. His cowardly outlook on his
sins only causes his troubles to snowball. Abandoning Hester and her illegitimate
daughter Pearl, also augmented his problems. Forcing Hester to go and find work
around town, an obviously hard task for a single parent. He also abandons them
emotionally and physically, rarely there when Hester and Pearl needed him. Innocent
little Pearl wonders why Dimmesdale is so afraid of public displays of affection, yet
when they are alone, he takes notice of her and Hester; talking to him, Pearl asks”
‘Wilt thou stand here with Mother and me, tomorrow noontide?’ (p.149)”. A question
whose answer is unclear for Pearl. In fact, the only way Hester and Pearl receive any
kind of support from Dimmesdale is when Hester threatens to tell the truth about his
The fact that Dimmesdale is a hypocrite causes him to experience increased
torment due to his guilt. Hawthorne’s point is beautifully illustrated by Dimmesdale,
because if he was not such a highly religious man, then he would not care about his
crime. However, he does care, and he inflicts torment on himself, including long
periods of fasting, in addition to hours of staring at himself in the mirror, he could
also be caught numerous times in his closet, whipping himself and burning the letter
“A” on his chest, or at the scaffold in the wee hours of the morning, practicing how
he is going to confess the next day. Deluding himself by pretending that his private
punishment is adequate. Similarly, there are also some things that go on that are out
of Dimmesdale’s control. For example, bizarre thoughts and hallucinations take over
him. His outward appearance also reflects this. To illustrate, “…his cheek was paler
and thinner, and his voice more tremulous than before-when it had now become a
constant habit….to press his hand over his heart.. (118)”. “He thus typified the
constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not purify, himself (141)”.
Proving, once again, that no good came out of his self-inflicted punishment. Even
though he was privately repentant at home, his ministerial duties were carried out,
attempting to keep his personal life out of the church.
Dimmesdale refuses to confess, rationalizing that if he did, he would not be
able to continue preaching and doing good deeds for the people; attempting to
balance the scale. ” ‘These men deceive themselves’ “, as stated by Dimmesdales’s
doctor, referring to people who believe that they can balance the scales by “doing
good deeds (129)”.
However, at the conclusion of the novel, Dimmesdale takes an enormous load
off of his back when he swallows his pride and finally confesses. After he sees himself
transformed into a man that wants to teach children blasphemous words, and to sing
and get drunk with visiting