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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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Yet, Mistress Hibbins' "hail-fellow-well-met" greeting to the minister raises a question. Are we really supposed to see the forest meeting of the lovers as some sort of infernal pact with Hester in the role of evil temptress? If we balk at this construction of events, it is only the beginning of our troubles. We come smack up against another dilemma in the minister's newfound strength.

If Dimmesdale has indeed sold his soul to the devil, he has come out ahead in the bargain. When he was "good," he was weak and lethargic; good, perhaps, but certainly good for nothing. Now that he is "bad," he is energetic, ready for action, capable of doing something, if only of raising hell.

In Dimmesdale's behavior, Hawthorne has sensed a truth that has (for him) chilling implications. The minister's energy sources are closely linked to his sensuality. When the sap rises in the man, he is raring to go. But passion, Hawthorne has said (see "The Pastor and His Parishioner"), is the part of Dimmesdale the devil claimed. Only the higher, purer qualities are directed toward God.

Is the choice, then, between a virtuous torpor and an active, creative evil? For Dimmesdale? For all of us? If so, it is the devil's own choice.


Hawthorne now brings Dimmesdale home where he does two interesting things. First, he lies like a trooper to Chillingworth, concealing (if has any hopes of concealing) the knowledge of Chillingworth's true position that Dimmesdale has gained from Hester Prynne. Here is a change from Dimmesdale's old simplicity, the sign of the serpent upon him, indeed.

But the minister does something else, something that points in a different direction. He begins anew that piece of work which is so important to him, the Election Sermon. He channels, almost by accident, the dubious energy sparked by the forest meeting into his true calling, the saving of souls. He works like a man inspired (or a man possessed) until the next morning, when the sermon lies finished before him on the study floor.

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