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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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Keep that question in mind. It will reoccur throughout The Scarlet Letter, with answers that vary from a firm yes to a tentative maybe. Dimmesdale now replies that Hester is comparatively lucky in the freedom she has to show her pain. (We remember he has said much the same thing in his speech to Hester in the market-place. To the minister, the grass always looks greener on Hester's side of the fence; that is, until he seriously considers joining her there.)

Chillingworth now turns to the subject of Dimmesdale's health. Has the minister revealed all the symptoms of his illness? The doctor has the physical signs well in hand. But are there spiritual disturbances as well, which he should be aware of?

The question touches a raw nerve in Dimmesdale. The storm breaks, one that has been brewing since the beginning of the scene. In a rage, Dimmesdale turns on Chillingworth. The doctor is out of his province. Earthly physicians have no business meddling with the ills of the soul.

The two men have reached a critical point in their relationship. For a moment, Dimmesdale has seen the malice in Chillingworth's eyes. He has recognized his enemy. But he backs down, filled with self-doubt.

Chillingworth, too, has had a glimpse of what lies beneath the veil. He has penetrated Dimmesdale's reserve and found the streak of passion he's always suspected in the man. And he finds something else.

Coming upon Dimmesdale in the deep sleep of exhaustion that follows this draining scene, Chillingworth thrusts aside a piece of cloth that, up to now, has always hidden the minister's chest from sight. And he sees-well, you know what he sees: a letter over the minister's heart that corresponds to the one on Hester's dress.


NOTE: In the closing image of Chillingworth-stamping his feet and throwing his arms toward the ceiling in joy and wonder at his discovery-we have an explicit comparison of the man to the fiend. We have come a long way, in a single chapter, from the upright man, "calm in temperament, kindly, though not of warm affections," to Satan, rejoicing in the damnation of a soul. To a large extent, this is the turning point in Hawthorne's portrayal of Chillingworth. The devil in him will be in the ascendant from here on.

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