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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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By such careful handling of Dimmesdale, Chillingworth maneuvers himself into the position of intimate friend and constant attendant. He becomes a sounding board for the minister's ideas, a recipient of confidences-medical and otherwise. He hears Dimmesdale's thoughts as they pass all but uncensored from his lips.

NOTE: We can learn a lot from Dimmesdale's initial reaction to Chillingworth. The minister is, at first, fascinated by the breadth of the physician's mind. Though orthodox himself, Dimmesdale has a sneaking fondness for radical ideas in others. In the stuffy intellectual atmosphere of Boston, he has had no such stimulation for a long time. Perhaps we can see what originally attracted him to Hester Prynne. Here was one woman, among a hundred dull and strait-laced girls, who dared to think for herself.

If you think you spy in Chillingworth the familiar outline of a modern psychiatrist, you are perceptive-and half right. There was no science of psychiatry in Hawthorne's day, but Chillingworth casts on the wall the shadow of things to come.

Hawthorne knew what could happen if a doctor attuned his mind to a patient's, listened quietly to his revelations, registered no shock or surprise at his thoughts, however monstrous. He knew, and he found such cold scrutiny repulsive.

Perhaps a benign motive on the physician's part would redeem such investigative procedures. But Chillingworth's motives, as we know, are entirely malevolent.


Chillingworth is guilty of more than a betrayal of friendship or an abuse of a doctor's privilege. He is trespassing on holy ground, entering with irreverent curiosity the sacred precincts of another man's soul.

He is also shoveling away all of Dimmesdale's virtues to find the lode of evil he suspects. And while he is digging, he begins to show signs of getting dirty. Rumors are rife in Boston. Popular opinion, which first proclaimed the doctor's arrival a miracle, now has taken a different turn. The fires in Chillingworth's laboratory are said to be fed with infernal fuel, and his face is getting dark and grimy from the smoke.

You can accept popular opinion. You can view Chillingworth as an arch villain or even a fiend. But you also see him as something more interesting than that: a man playing a deadly game with his enemy, deadly in a way he does not even suspect.

Chillingworth, after all, has made his own life dependent on Dimmesdale's. Revenge is his sole reason to exist. As the title of the chapter reminds us, a leech is a parasite that dies along with its host.

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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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