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CHAPTER 23: The Revelation Of The Scarlet Letter
After Dimmesdale's inspiring and emotional sermon, the procession moves towards the town hall. The people are enthralled by Dimmesdale's words, revere his seeming holiness, and judge him as more pious and honorable than ever. As he walks past in the procession, the spectators cheer him triumphantly and think he is the best preacher of all of New England.
There has been a significant change in Dimmesdale's appearance since the earlier procession. Ironically, after his triumphant sermon he no longer walks with a healthy gait, but is once again feeble and tottering. There is also a strange expression upon his face. As he nears the scaffold, Dimmesdale leaves the procession and seeks Hester's help in climbing up the steps with Pearl. Chillingworth tries to intervene and warns him of the consequences of a public disclosure. Dimmesdale, however, refuses to be victimized by Chillingworth any longer. He is determined to make a public confession of his sin before he dies.
As the crowd, with its distinguished guests, stands aghast, Dimmesdale climbs the scaffold with Hester and Pearl. Standing in full public gaze, he addresses the people and confesses his guilt. He declares that, like Hester, he too wears the mark of sin. Before collapsing, Dimmesdale bears his chest for all to see. He then forgives Chillingworth and asks Pearl to kiss him.
For the first time, Pearl truly reveals her love for Dimmesdale. As her tears fall for the first time in the novel, she undergoes a transformation that will enable her to lead a normal life. No longer will she feel the need to shun companionship or insist that her mother wear the scarlet letter. Her questions have been answered, her humanity has been established, and she will no longer be the impish child she has been throughout the book.
Dimmesdale bids a final farewell to Hester, for he doubts he can be united with her for eternity because of his sinful nature. The minister then dies, leaving the people with a sense of awe.
When Dimmesdale decides to stand on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl, he finally gains his personal victory and succeeds in breaking Chillingworth's hold over him. Dimmesdale's self- exposure of his sin, coming immediately after being placed on the pinnacle of glory by his Puritan congregation, reflects not only his courage to reveal the truth at the height of personal fame but also serves to lend tragedy to the scene. Dimmesdale's public confession is an act of bravery for him; he considers the public acceptance of his guilt better than the cowardly escape from Boston that he had planned. When he reveals the scarlet letter on his chest, he is freed to die a peaceful man.
Before departing from this world, Dimmesdale fulfills all his responsibilities as a priest, as a husband, as a father, and as a sinner. In his Election Day sermon, he has inspired and moved his congregation. In his public acceptance of Hester and Pearl, Dimmesdale offers them some respectability, which is long overdue. He even asks God to forgive his enemy, Chillingworth. Most importantly, as a Puritan sinner, he has confessed his sin before God and mankind.
It is very significant that he asks Hester to help him on to the scaffold, for he has spurned the aid of Rev. Wilson (the Church) and the Governor (the State). These institutions cannot come to his assistance. It is only Hester's strength and his own belief in himself that can get him through the confession. It is significant that after he bears his chest and collapses, he leans upon Hester, who has always been willing to support him. It is also significant that he asks Pearl for a kiss after the confession. For the first time in the book, the child willingly goes to him and shows her affection. The kiss that Pearl gives Dimmesdale is symbolic of the fact that his daughter has finally accepted him; the kiss also shows Pearl's humanity.
Chillingworth's attempt at preventing Dimmesdale from climbing the scaffold reflects his truly evil nature. He still wishes to hold Dimmesdale in his clutches and feels bitter when he loses the opportunity of further exercising his evil over him. He definitely does not want Dimmesdale to have the peace of a confession.
With this final scaffold scene, the novel reaches its dramatic conclusion, and the reader is aware that Hawthorne has masterfully woven his entire novel around a trinity. The plot of the novel revolves around three key characters -- Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth -- whose lives are inextricably intertwined.