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MonkeyNotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER 10: The Leech And His Patient

Summary

As Roger Chillingworth spends more time with Dimmesdale, he becomes more obsessed with learning his patient's secrets. He is compared to a miner searching for gold and to a sexton digging a grave in search of some ornament. Dimmesdale notices his curiosity and begins to grow suspicious of Chillingworth.

During one conversation, Chillingworth mentions a person who died with an unconfessed and hidden secret in his heart. Dimmesdale suggests that the man might have desired to confess but failed to act.

He further adds that at times the guilty heart is compelled to hide secrets until the day of reckoning. Chillingworth points out that it is always better to confess sin while one is still alive. Dimmesdale agrees, but adds that some people fail to do so because of their reserved nature or because of a sense of despair; instead, they choose to live in "their own unutterable torment". As their conversation proceeds, their attention is ironically diverted by the sight of Pearl playing on the graves outside. Then they watch her decorate her mother's scarlet "A" with sticker burrs.

Chillingworth and Dimmesdale discuss Pearl's strange behavior. The child, upon hearing the men's voices, spies the two. She tells her mother that they must leave or "yonder old Black Man will catch you! He hat got hold of the minister already." Pearl's words are often wise and beyond her age.


Chillingworth tells Dimmesdale that his sickness is a strange and deeply rooted one. He suspects that the illness is spiritual as well as physical. He asks Dimmesdale to bare his soul before him so that he can treat him fully. Dimmesdale, however, refuses and tells Chillingworth not to meddle in his private matters. He also tells the physician that only God can heal him, for his is a spiritual illness. Dimmesdale's outburst and rushing from the room convince Chillingworth that the minister has committed some serious sin, the guilt of which is tormenting him.

One day when Dimmesdale has fallen into a deep sleep in his chair, Chillingworth opens his shirt and looks at his chest. What he finds fills the doctor with satanic joy, and he dances in delight.

Notes

This chapter clearly presents Chillingworth as he tortures Dimmesdale; it also shows Dimmesdale's self-inflicted suffering over his silence. Chillingworth, the leech, refuses to leave Dimmesdale alone until he discovers the truth of his suffering. Through contrived dialogues, the doctor questions Dimmesdale about unconfessed sin. Dimmesdale tells him that there are reasons that people conceal their sins and suffer for them. He also states that confessed sin is always kinder to the sinner than unconfessed sin. Dimmesdale knows this well, for his suffering comes from inability to confess that he is the father of Pearl.

Chillingworth's keen sense of observation and intelligence is presented in the chapter. He notices 'animal instincts' in the priest and realizes that the outwardly pious Dimmesdale is not altogether sinless. He also judges that the minister's sickness is the result of some deep-rooted spiritual problem.

Throughout the novel, suspense is skillfully utilized by Hawthorne to heighten the interest of the reader in the story. For a long time he withholds the identity of Pearl's father. At the end of this chapter he also withholds what Chillingworth finds when he looks at Dimmesdale's chest.

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