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MonkeyNotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER 11: The Interior Of A Heart


Chillingworth, who is convinced he knows Dimmesdale's secret, becomes more malicious and starts tormenting the minister discreetly. Ignorant of the doctor's background or motives, Dimmesdale simply begins to fear him as an evil man. Since he cannot understand the reason for his own "distrust and abhorrence" of Chillingworth, he attributes it to his own guilty conscience.

Dimmesdale yearns to confess his sin to his congregation, but he can never gather the courage to openly speak about it. Instead, through his sermons, he indirectly projects himself as a sinner. The congregation, however, believes he him to be a holy man incapable of committing sin. They interpret his discreet confessions as a sign of humility; therefore, their respect and reverence for their minister are increased. Dimmesdale now feels even more hypocritical, and his misery swells. In an effort to purge himself of his sins, Dimmesdale whips himself in private and fasts for long periods of time. He also keeps all- night vigils during which he sees frightening visions of demons, his parents, and Hester with Pearl painting the letter "A" at Dimmesdale's heart. During one such night of vigil, Dimmesdale carefully dresses and prepares to go out in his clerical robes.


The reason behind Dimmesdale's suffering is more fully revealed in this chapter, and the reader's attention is focused on his intense agony as he reels under his guilt and inability to confess his sin. Since he cannot state his sin openly, Dimmesdale inflicts physical punishment on himself. At the same time, Chillingworth is inflicting extreme mental torture. He is now fully convinced of the nature of Dimmesdale's sin, and his plan for revenge is put in operation. The result is that Dimmesdale grows weaker and weaker. His physical being is a reflection of his inner turmoil.

Dimmesdale's attempts to confess before his congregation by referring to himself as a "a viler companion of the vilest, the worst of sinners, an abomination, a thing of unimaginable iniquity." Ironically, such vague confessions only make the congregation judge him as humble and more holy. They heap more praise upon him, making the minister feel even more guilty and hypocritical.

Hawthorne's differing opinions of Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth become apparent here. He continually describes Hester with sympathy, even considering her a martyr and comparing her to the Virgin. He judges Dimmesdale much more harshly, calling him a "subtle but remorseful hypocrite."

He believes the minister's self-condemnation and self- acknowledged shame are the proper rewards for his unconfessed sin. Finally, Hawthorne judges Chillingworth the most harshly of all, "more wretched than his victim."

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